Facebook to hand privacy controls to users ahead of EU law

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, addresses the Facebook Gather conference in Brussels, Belgium, January 23, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Facebook to hand privacy controls to users ahead of EU law

BRUSSELS: Facebook will make it easier for its more than 2 billion users to manage their own data in response to a tough new European Union law that comes into force in May, the social network’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said.
“We’re rolling out a new privacy center globally that will put the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data,” Sandberg said at a Facebook event in Brussels on Tuesday.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the biggest overhaul of personal data privacy rules since the birth of the Internet and aims to give Europeans more control over their information and how companies use it.
Companies found to be in breach of the law face a maximum penalty of 4 percent of global annual turnover or 20 million euros ($24.50 million), whichever is greater.
“Our apps have long been focused on giving people transparency and control and this gives us a very good foundation to meet all the requirements of the GDPR and to spur us on to continue investing in products and in educational tools to protect privacy,” Sandberg said.
Industries collecting large amount of customer data — from technology companies to insurers and banks — will be affected.
Facebook’s use of customer data and tracking of people’s online activities has already come under investigation from several EU data protection authorities.
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Sandberg said Facebook had not done enough to stop the abuse of its platform and would double the number of people working on safety and security to 20,000 by the end of the year.
The EU has put Internet companies on notice that it will legislate if they do not do a better job self-policing their services for extremist propaganda, hate speech and other abuses.
Facebook — which has been criticized for failing to stop Russian-based operatives using its platform to meddle in the 2016 US presidential elections — is focusing on disrupting the economic incentives to spread fake news, Sandberg said.
Moscow denies any interference in the US election.
“People write these headlines to get clicks to make money,” she said. “So if we can prevent people from being part of our ad networks, prevent people from advertising and take away the financial incentive, that is one of the strongest things we can do against false news, and we are very focused on this.”


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.