Ireland has conflict of interest in regulating tech, says Facebook whistleblower

Frances Haugen calls for centralised European regulation of technology companies

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, speaking before the European Parliament, has warned that large technology companies based in Ireland are putting "extreme pressures" on the State over how they are regulated. Video: European Parliament

 

Ireland is under “extreme pressures” from tech giants over how they are regulated, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has said, calling for national agencies to be stripped of their powers in favour of a centralised European body.

Testifying to the European Parliament, the former Facebook manager who leaked thousands of documents revealing internal concerns about the harmful effect of its platforms said that the European Union had a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to tame the network with forthcoming regulation.

She suggested current rules that give national agencies such as Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) the role of enforcement on global multinationals based in the country place an excessive “burden”, and that there are too few specialised staff to fill national agencies.

“With regard to the challenges of enforcement, giving Ireland the burden of having to enforce all these rules – because you’re right, most of the tech companies are out of Ireland – I think there’s a real, real need for there to be some kind of centralised authority in Europe,” Ms Haugen said.

“If there’s only maybe 200 or 300 people in the industry who have enough experience and insights around how these systems work and what the consequences of them are, if we expect to spread them across 27 agencies, I think it’s going to be very ineffective, you’re not going to get the critical mass in any one place,” she explained.

Conflict of interest

Ms Haugen also suggested that Irish regulators work in a situation where there is a conflict of interest between the economic benefits brought by multinational tech companies and the task of holding them to account.

“I think there’s also that conflict of interest factor, that Ireland benefits a lot from having those tech companies there, and I think it puts them under unfair pressure to have to hold those things in tension,” Ms Haugen told MEPs.

“Because I’m sure Ireland cares about the safety of our children, Ireland cares about our democracies being threatened, but they also have extreme pressures being exerted against them, which shows the need for central oversight.”

Authorities in other EU member states have accused Irish regulators in the past of being insufficiently stringent with multinationals, and have sought to work around the DPC to deal with tech giants directly.

Ireland’s DPC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.