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5/21/17

Facebook: The EU is right to take on Facebook, but mere fines don’t protect us from tech giants - by Julia Powles

The indomitable empire of Facebook is being assailed by a volley of arrows from Europe. The latest struck on Thursday: a  Euro 110m fine from the European commission for providing misleading information in 2014 when the commission was doing a merger review on Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp.

In August 2014, Facebook said it was unable to reliably match Facebook and WhatsApp user accounts. But in August 2016, it started doing just that. This fine recognises that Facebook lied about its technical capacities in 2014, a point the company seems to have accepted. The acquisition also allowed it to get a further identifier on its users: their phone number. Extremely valuable as today your phone number is your primary key.

Politicians such as Theresa May seem incapable of seeing the irony of Facebook being fined for lying, just as she accelerates demands to deputise Facebook as an arbiter of truth by enlisting it in the fight against child abuse, terrorism, hate speech, copyright infringement and other ills.

Nowhere in these proposals is there any plan for how effectively to oversee and monitor Facebook in this function or to pull it back if it goes too far.

The maddening reality is that lies, whether by or facilitated by Facebook, have proved to have no impact on the company’s bottom line.

The commission should have seen the permeability of Facebook and WhatsApp accounts coming and adopted a more proactive stance, at the very least by insisting on the firewalling of WhatsApp user data from Facebook. Instead, a spate of privacy and consumer protection cases is now running across Europe, trying to retrofit solutions at the national level.

Read more: The EU is right to take on Facebook, but mere fines don’t protect us from tech giants | Julia Powles | Opinion | The Guardian

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