Ireland’s regulatory reputation encouraged Facebook HQ

Ireland also had the right skillsets in its population, says Facebook privacy officer

Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer Stephen Deadman’s comments were an indirect rebuttal to questions raised during a European Court of Justice hearing earlier this year in a pending case between Austrian law graduate Max Schrems and the Irish data protection commissioner’s office. Photograph:  AFP/ Karen Bleier

Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer Stephen Deadman’s comments were an indirect rebuttal to questions raised during a European Court of Justice hearing earlier this year in a pending case between Austrian law graduate Max Schrems and the Irish data protection commissioner’s office. Photograph: AFP/ Karen Bleier

 

Facebook set up its operations in Ireland in part because it felt the regulatory environment here “was seen as a good high standard” internationally, according to the group’s deputy chief privacy officer Stephen Deadman.

Speaking at a briefing in Dublin, Mr Deadman said other reasons included Ireland being seen as a good business location for operations that are responsible for Facebook’s entire international user base outside of the US and Canada.

Ireland also had the right skillsets in its population, including the availability of people with multiple languages, he said. Users all over the word benefit from having the company operating here under European standards.

Mr Deadman’s comments were an indirect rebuttal to questions raised during a European Court of Justice hearing earlier this year in a pending case between Austrian law graduate Max Schrems and the Irish data protection commissioner’s office.

Facebook’s privacy and data handling policies, and the adequacy of the Safe Harbour data handling agreement between the US and the European Union, are key issues in the case.

“We think of privacy as a product,” Mr Deadman said. Facebook has privacy teams in its product, research and engineering divisions. He said the company knew it had to retain user trust.

He said different populations around the world have different views on privacy.

“Europe is the most sensitive when it comes to sharing [photos and information] and privacy” on Facebook, he said. “Europe tends to share less and keep the community with whom they share, tighter.”

An internal study also showed people in India were more concerned with identity theft and security issues, while Africans liked sharing, and expanding their communities, he said.

Mr Deadman said Facebook viewed Europe “as a key area for us to invest in and continue to build our product”.

The company recently announced it would build a data centre in Ireland. It also opened its first artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory in Paris last month. Facebook also has a large engineering centre in London, Mr Deadman said.

Facebook sees encryption as a critical part of its service and has recently expanded the ways in which users can make use of it, said Jennifer Henley, Facebook’s director of security. Users can choose to use Facebook entirely within an encrypted environment

The social media platform now has an option for its users to include their public key – a long, random number ‘key’ that enables people to receive and send encoded messages via encrypted email – in their profiles.

Users can also opt to have Facebook send emails such as password resets via encrypted email.

She said Facebook users can also choose to access, and then remain within Facebook’s platform entirely through Tor, an anonymising, encrypted internet gateway utilised by many human rights activists.

Last October, Facebook introduced design changes to make it easier to use the service over Tor, she said.

Many companies have faced pressure from national governments, including those in the US and Britain, to limit the use of encryption and anonymising internet services, and to provide “back door” access for law enforcement, due to security concerns.

But companies have said that they are more vulnerable to hackers and terrorists if encryption is deliberately weakened. Ms Henley said a balance was needed.

Both Facebook executives said users’ interest in security and privacy has risen in the past 18 months.