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Facebook heads to Europe to respond to data scandal as Sheryl Sandberg says other misuse of data is ‘possible’

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg plans a call with the EU’s justice commissioner and the company’s top technology officer is expected to appear before a UK parliament committee 

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 April, 2018, 1:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 8:18am

Facebook Inc. officials will face up to to European politicians 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 EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova; the company’s top technology officer is expected to appear before a UK parliament committee; and its deputy privacy chief is to head to Italy.

“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,” Jourova said in an emailed statement on Friday.

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

Facebook chief Zuckerberg to testify before Congress over data scandal

Sandberg, who joined Facebook in 2008 from Google, has been largely silent since the privacy scandal broke but she gave interviews on Thursday and Friday to National Public Radio and NBC’s Today show. 

Sandberg was asked on Today if other cases of misuse of user data could be expected.  

“We’re doing an investigation, we’re going to do audits and yes, we think it’s possible, that’s why we’re doing the audit,” she said. 

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

Facebook’s Sandberg says sharing of 87m people’s data was legal in US 

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 users. 

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 starting May 25.

Sandberg and Jourova are expected 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 on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss their investigations, on which the UK watchdog has taken the lead.

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

Germany urges tough EU response to Facebook’s ‘intransparency’

Other EU privacy regulators also weighed in on the data scandal, with Italian authorities saying on Thursday that they would meet April 24 with Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s deputy chief global privacy officer, as part of their investigation.

The chief of Italy’s Competition Authority said Friday that the agency had 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 would  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.