Facebook to apologise to TDs and Senators for ‘violation of trust’

Senior aide in George W Bush White House to lead delegation of Facebook executives and advisers at Oireachtas committee

Facebook executives will apologise today at an Oireachtas Committee for a "huge violation of trust" that occurred when users data was transferred to third parties and used for campaigning purposes.

Joel Kaplan, Facebook's vice president for global policy, will tell TDs and senators on the Oireachtas Communications Committee that the company is "deeply sorry" for failing in its responsibilities to protect users' data.

Mr Kaplan, a former senior aide in the George W Bush White House, will lead a delegation of Facebook executives and advisers to give evidence before the committee this afternoon.

The delegation also includes Gareth Lambe, Facebook's Irish boss, and Niamh Sweeney, a former adviser to Labour leader and ex-tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. Ms Sweeney is now the company's head of public policy in Dublin.


The committee is examining proposed legislation drawn up by Fianna Fáil backbencher and committee vice chairman James Lawless, which would regulate the use of political advertisements online.

Facebook data can allow individual users to be targeted with specific messages or advertisements, but at present this can be done anonymously and without consumers being aware that they are being targeted, or by whom.

Mr Lawless’s bill would compel social media and internet companies to identify the authors and purchasers of political advertising.

Verified advertisers

The Facebook executives will say that they are “aligned with its goals”.

“It mirrors, in large part, what we are trying to achieve with the new ads transparency tools we have announced,” Mr Kaplan will say in his opening statement.

“We agree that, when it comes to advertising on Facebook, people should be able to see all the ads that a page is running – and when it comes to political ads, all advertisers should be verified and any ads that they run should be clearly labelled to show who paid for them.”

Though Ministers and the Taoiseach have suggested that there are legal problems with the proposed Bill, legal advice supplied to the committee makes clear that while amendments are required, there are no fundamental constitutional or European problems with the Bill.

“On the whole, I don’t think that the proposal is likely to give rise to constitutional, ECHR, or EU difficulties,” parliamentary legal adviser David O’Neill has advised the committee.

US election

In the US, Facebook data was supplied to political and campaign consultants Cambridge Analytica, who claimed to have influenced the election of Donald Trump by using the data to "micro-target" voters.

Mr Kaplan will tell the committee today that about 45,000 Irish users of Facebook had their data supplied to Cambridge.

The Data Commissioner Helen Dixon will also attend at the meeting. She will tell the committee that her office has no role in policing online campaigning where personal data issues do not arise.

“The issues of personal data processing on the one hand and electoral matters on the other are distinct and separate from each other and my office has no role in regulating the core aspects of electoral activity, including advertising and canvassing activities, other than where personal data is deployed,” she will tell the committee.

However, she will say that her office is watching the British investigation into the activities of Cambridge Analytica closely.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times