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Data Protection Commission launches probe into Facebook over user data breach

The dataset leaked online included phone numbers and email addresses from Facebook users

Image: Andre M. Chang

THE DATA PROTECTION Commission (DPC) has launched an inquiry into Facebook over the recent data breach impacting 533 million people, many of whom are in the EU.

The data was taken from Facebook by a third party a number of years ago and republished in an unsecure database earlier this month. 

Around 1.5 million Irish-based Facebook users have been caught up in the leak, which has led to their full names and phone numbers being published online beside other personal information allowing people to search for their personal profiles.

An analysis of the database by The Journal found that among those affected in Ireland are 65 sitting TDs from almost every party in the Dáil, as well as a slew of independents.

The DPC said the own-volition inquiry, pursuant to section 110 of the Data Protection Act 2018, is underway after it recently engaged with Facebook Ireland on the issue, raising queries in relation to GDPR compliance.

The data watchdog said having considered the information provided by Facebook Ireland, it is of the opinion that “one or more provisions of the GDPR and/or the Data Protection Act 2018 may have been, and/or are being, infringed in relation to Facebook Users’ personal data”.

The DPC said it considers it appropriate to “determine whether Facebook Ireland has complied with its obligations, as data controller, in connection with the processing of personal data of its users”.

Facebook said that this data was scraped from its website a couple of years ago through the manipulation of a feature that has since been changed. Scraping refers to the harvesting of information from websites.

The issue arose after a third party used Facebook’s contact importer feature, which allowed users to find friends on Facebook using their contact lists, to harvest personal data from users. 

Facebook changed this feature in 2019 after it became aware it was being abused. 

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This issue was reported in 2019 after a similar database of information was briefly made publicly available through a third-party server. 

You can check whether you have been affected by the Facebook data breach here.

- With reporting from Orla Dwyer 

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Adam Daly

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