Facebook to Europe: We’re ready to talk now

Data story ‘too shocking’ for it to be ‘business as usual’, says EU justice commissioner

Facebook officials will be traveling - or at least making phone calls - to Europe to respond to concerns that the data of as many as 2.7 million people in the European Union might have been shared with a consulting firm that worked on Donald Trump's US presidential campaign.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg is planning a call with the EU's justice commissioner, while the company's top technology officer is expected to appear before a UK parliament committee and its deputy privacy chief will head to Italy.

The company has been refining its response in the wake of revelations that data on as many as 87 million people, most of them in the US, may have been improperly shared with research firm Cambridge Analytica.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who will testify at US congressional hearing next week, has changed tack by communicating directly with the press in interviews, and a group conference call late on Wednesday.


"It's clear that data of Europeans have been exposed to a huge risk and I am not sure if Facebook took all the necessary steps to implement change," EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova said in an emailed statement Friday.

“This story is too important, too shocking, to treat it as business as usual.”

Advertising impact

Some advertisers have curtailed spending, Sandberg said in an interview on Thursday at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, where she acknowledged that her team has a long way to go to reassure wary customers. She also sent a letter late Thursday to the EU trying to explain the steps taken to protect data.

The response isn’t sufficient yet for the EU, Jourova said, adding that she will “speak with Ms. Sandberg about how they intend to ensure transparency and respect the rules of our democratic debate and how they plan to change” once new EU privacy rules are in place from May 25th.

Sandberg and Jourova are scheduled to have a phone call early next week, Jourova's spokesman Christian Wigand said.

EU data protection regulators from around the 28-nation bloc will also be meeting in Brussels next Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss their investigations, on which the UK watchdog has taken the lead.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office in a statement on Thursday said that Facebook has been cooperating with regulators and that “it is too early to say” whether the policy changes Facebook is making “are sufficient”.

Italian response

Other EU privacy regulators also weighed in on the data scandal, with Italian authorities saying on Thursday that they will meet later in April with Stephen Deadman, Facebook's deputy chief global privacy officer, as part of their investigation into the scandal.

The chief of Italy's Competition Authority said Friday the watchdog has also opened an investigation on Facebook's potential unfair practices. In remarks to Sky TG24, chairman Giovanni Pitruzzella said the main focus of the case will be on the misleading message the social media company passes on to its users.

“Consumers are not in the position to know that the company passes on its data also for commercial use,” he said.

A UK parliament committee investigating the impact of social media on recent elections on Friday announced former Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix and former director Brittany Kaiser as future witnesses for a Fake News inquiry.

It said that Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer had also been called as a witness. – Bloomberg