Privacy commissioner asks federal court to open hearings into Facebook’s violation of privacy

The privacy commissioner is asking the Federal Court of Canada to open a hearing into what it says are Facebook’s numerous violations of Canada’s federal privacy laws.

The move marks the beginning of legal proceedings against Facebook that Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien first suggested would be launched last spring, after a joint investigation by the federal and B.C. privacy commissioners found “major shortcomings in the social media giant’s privacy practices.”

Therrien’s office said that Facebook refused to implement recommendations that would address the platform’s privacy breaches.

The commissioner’s office launched its initial investigation after a complaint was filed against Facebook alleging the company allowed an organization to use an app to access the personal information of users and then share that information with others, including Cambridge Analytica, which was involved in U.S. political campaigns.

Cambridge Analytica is accused of harvesting data of more than 50 million Facebook users worldwide to create social media strategies to support U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

The app, called This is Your Digital Life, encouraged users to complete a personality quiz, collected the information of users as well as their Facebook friends.

Under the law, the privacy commissioner is not allowed to simply submit its report to the court. It must instead prove that Facebook violated the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

Impose binding orders: commissioner

The commissioner’s office is asking the federal court to impose binding orders requiring the company to correct or change practices that currently violate the law. It also wants the court to declare that Facebook did, in fact, breach Canadian law.

The court filing is asking for:

  • A declaration that Facebook contravened PIPEDA.
  • An order requiring Facebook to implement effective, specific and easily accessible measures to obtain, and ensure it maintains, meaningful consent from all users.
  • An order requiring Facebook to specify the technical revisions, modifications and amendments to be made to its practices to achieve compliance with PIPEDA.
  • An order that the parties follow up with the court, as well as an order that the court retain jurisdiction for the purposes of ongoing monitoring and enforcement.
  • An order prohibiting Facebook from further collecting, using and disclosing any personal information of users in any manner that contravenes PIPEDA.
  • An order requiring Facebook to publish a public notice of any action taken or proposed to be taken to correct its practices that contravene PIPEDA.

‘There is no evidence’: Facebook

“The commission is choosing to pursue legal action despite our many attempts to work with them and offer measures that would go above and beyond what other companies do, and despite the fact that there is no evidence that Canadian user data was shared with Cambridge Analytica,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

“We look forward to defending the many proactive and robust improvements we’ve made to our platform to better protect people’s personal information.”


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