Facebook faces sanctions if it drags its feet on data transparency

The European Commission (EC) has had it up to here with Facebook dragging its feet on providing more information about what it does with users’ data and is ready to slap it upside the head with sanctions, Vera Jourova, the European Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, said at a news conference on Thursday in Brussels.

And oh, by the way, Facebook is a “channel of dirt” and I’ve closed my account, she said at the same conference when asked why she doesn’t have a Facebook account.

Jourova said that she had an account for a short time but was taken aback by the venomous comments and filthy language she received:

I didn’t expect such an influx of hatred, and I decided to cancel the account because I realized there would be less hatred in Europe after I do this.

She doesn’t want to avoid conversation with the people, she said – even the critical ones.

I speak to everybody who wants normal, honest, decent communication.

Regarding sanctions, Jourova warned Facebook that it has to comply with the EU’s consumer protection rules. Communication with users has got to get better – specifically, users need to be informed what data Facebook has collected about them. Otherwise, member states will levy fines.

In a Tweet, she alluded to the multiple revelations about Facebook sharing users’ data with third parties that have come out over the past few months, including the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

Facebook has until 31 December to act. Jourova said that she’s out of patience:

I am becoming rather impatient. We have been in dialogue with Facebook almost two years. Progress is not enough for me, I want to see the results.

If we don’t see progress, the sanctions will come. This is quite clear. We cannot negotiate forever. We need to see the results.

No wonder she’s out of patience: This has been going on for some time.

Back in February, the EC said that social media companies need to do more to fully comply with EU consumer rules. That call came on top of the same request having been made in March 2017 by the European Commission and Member States’ consumer authorities.

Facebook and Twitter, in particular, may have agreed to provide a dedicated email address for national authorities to use to call out infringements, but both companies shied away from promising that they’d respond to the issues in a given timeframe.

Also in February, the EC told AirBnB to inform customers about the total prices of bookings and extra fees – for example, service costs and cleaning charges – and to let consumers know whether their hosts are private individuals or professional.

In July, the EC had repeated its call to shape up, and Jourova said that the company had indeed made the “necessary changes to ensure full transparency.”

In contrast, Facebook hasn’t stepped up to the plate, Jourova said.

Facebook’s response, according to the BBC, was that it’s made some changes and will continue to cooperate.