Millennium Post

EU watchdogs unite to probe Facebook privacy violations

European data protection authorities have joined forces to probe Facebook’s privacy controls, a French watchdog has said, putting the popular US social media giant under fresh pressure. “There is concerted collective action between five European authorities, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain,” said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin on Thursday, head of France’s CNIL privacy watchdog. 

She added that the Netherlands was coordinating the project, which consists of a working group involving representatives from the five countries that will look into Facebook’s practices. Facebook has for years been dogged by concerns over how well privacy is safeguarded online.

Falque-Pierrotin said Facebook’s privacy policy was at the heart of discussions, and data protection 
watchdogs are likely to examine the sharing of data between different apps such as Instagram or Whatsapp, both of which belong to the US giant. Facebook, whose international headquarters are based in Dublin, for its part said it was acting in compliance with data protection legislation. “We recently updated our terms and policies to make them more clear and concise, we’re confident the updates comply with applicable laws,” a Facebook spokeswoman said. Earlier this month, an Austrian law graduate filed a closely-watched class action suit against the social network for alleged privacy breaches. Max Schrems and 25,000 other users are suing the social media giant for various rights violations, ranging from the “illegal” tracking of their data under European Union law to Facebook’s involvement in the PRISM surveillance programme of the US NSA.

Google has also been in the firing line over privacy issues and has had multiple run-ins with authorities in Europe. In December, for instance, Dutch privacy watchdog DPA warned Google it faced a hefty fine if it did not fix alleged breaches in data protection laws when it uses personal details for targeted advertising. 

Meanwhile, the European Union has said it had filed anti-trust charges against Google to speedily resolve allegations that the tech titan abuses its search engine’s market dominance. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager yesterday said Google’s preferential use of its own shopping product in its search engine could be harmful to consumers and competitors.

Vestager announced the charges on Wednesday, five years after the investigation was launched. “What I saw when I took office was that discussions about commitments didn’t seem to move forward, neither very fast nor in promising way in order to finalize the case,” she told reporters in Washington. “It was my option that we should move forward here instead of waiting,” said Vestager, who took office in November. She also warned that the EU Commission on competition could also open investigations relating to other Google tools that may unfairly edge out competitors, including its travel, flights and hotel services. 

“If an infringement is proven, and it’s on purpose... a case focused on comparison shopping service could potentially establish a broader precedent for enforcing EU competition rules in other instances of Google favoring its own services over competing services,” she said. Google accounts for 90 per cent of the EU online search market. 

The concern is that competitors like travel portal TripAdvisor or business review Yelp could be squeezed out as a result of Google’s dominance, prioritizing its own product over others in its search engine. 
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