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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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Facebook says whatever fine it faces over password breach is matter for Irish data watchdog

The Data Protection Commissioner has launched a statutory inquiry into Facebook’s password storage breach.

Image: Shutterstock/faithie

FACEBOOK HAS SAID it will have wait for the determination of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) in Ireland before it can make any predictions about what possible fine the company might face in the future. 

Yesterday, the DPC launched a statutory inquiry into Facebook’s password storage after the social media giant revealed that it stored millions of accounts’ passwords in plain text on its internal servers.

In March, Facebook announced in a blog post that a routine security review carried out in January found the passwords were being stored in a readable format on its data storage systems.

It said it would be contacting “hundreds of millions” of users to make them aware that their password was involved in the glitch. Last week the company updated the post to say that it now estimates that the issue has also impacted “millions” of Instagram users.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call today about what the social media platform is doing to stop interference and misinformation in the EU elections, Nick Clegg, Vice President of Global Affairs was asked if the company planned to set aside any funds for a potential fine it might face. 

Fines

Under GDPR law, the DPC can fine Facebook up to 4% of its global turnover – about €20 million.

In announcing its first quarter earnings for 2019 this week, the company said it was setting aside $3 billion for the Federal Trade Commission fine that is due to apply later this year.

The fine concerns the Cambridge Analytica scandal that was revealed in March of last year, and other breaches. 

Clegg said he could not say much about the FTC process as the amount of the fine is contingent on the process that is “coming to completion”.

In relation to another potential fine in the EU, Clegg said that is a matter for the DPC to determine in Ireland. 

“They have made public they are looking at a number of issues… we will have to wait to see what next steps they want to take,” said Clegg. 

Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner is Facebook’s lead regulator in the European Union.

He added that is “completely right” that Facebook be seen to be held to account, stating that “with success comes accountability”. 

Outlining what the social media company is doing in order to combat fake political adverts, Clegg said the EU elections “undoubtedly represent one of the difficulty challenges we’ve faced”.

He said 40 teams will be working on elections around the world, adding that Facebook is partnering with 21 fact-checkers covering 14 EU languages.

Political advertisements 

To combat outside actors interfering with elections in other countries, Clegg said political groups can only advertise in the EU country they’re certified in.

Richard Allan, Vice President of Global Policy Solutions told reporters today that politicians and political groups will need to submit documents and confirm their identity.

The reason Facebook arrived at this decision was due to the risks is saw emerging with someone setting up in one EU country in a bid to affect another EU countries’ vote. 

Politicians and groups will now only be allowed to advertise in the countries they are registered, he added. 

He predicted some will try to “work around any system” but added that this new mechanism is the only “real barrier” it can roll out to stop the use of ads from outside the country. 

Adverts will also be “clearly labeled” as to who paid for them, contact details will be included as will the budget associated with the advert. 

An advert library will also be available where political ads will be held for seven years so more in-depth analysis can be carried out on the trends of the elections. 

Allan said the changes “will not prevent abuse entirely” but added that the company believed it will combat interference in this summer’s elections and future elections. 

Clegg said Facebook is open to cross-border advertising in some cases, but it will require getting approval from individual national election administrators before changing the rules.

Clegg said that he has been in talks with Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament.

“We built our system around national elections,” he said, adding that Facebook is considering “a temporary exemption” for a prescribed list of institutions.

“We are open to doing that but need consent from the national election administrations so that we can move forward.”

Dublin ‘war room’

Officials from the company also added that lessons have been learned about the election ‘war rooms’ set up in the US and Brazil in the run up to elections. 

Speaking about the work Facebook has done to increase its defences in the run up the EU elections, Clegg said the election operations hub will be based in Dublin.

The control center of sorts was first launched ahead of the US midterms as part of Facebook’s ongoing efforts to contain the spread of misinformation and abusive content on the platform. 

Asked question about white nationalist groups – such as Tommy Robinson and Britain First – running in EU elections, Facebook said banned groups and their supporters remain banned even if they’re running.

Facebook said it has a process whereby they “look at whether they represent a hate figure”, and if so, they are not permitted to have a platform on Facebook.

They added that such people “do not automatically have right to be on the platform if they are running for election”. 

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