EU data laws set to bite after Facebook scandal

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg told US lawmakers last month the firm plans to fall into line with the EU rules as it seeks to rebuild its reputation after the data harvesting by Cambridge Analytica. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2018
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EU data laws set to bite after Facebook scandal

  • One major change is that consumers must explicitly grant permission for their data to be used
  • Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter have all started in the last few weeks to alter their terms of use

BRUSSELS: New EU data protection laws take effect on May 25 to protect users’ online information, in what Brussels touts as a global benchmark after the Facebook scandal.
The laws will cover large tech companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook that use personal data as an advertising goldmine, as well as firms like banks and also public bodies.
One major change is that consumers must explicitly grant permission for their data to be used, while they can also specifically ask for their personal information to be deleted.
Firms face huge fines of up to €20 million or four percent of annual global turnover for failing to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
“It’s your data — take control,” the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, urges the bloc’s 500 million citizens in guidelines for the new rules.
The case for the new rules has been boosted by the recent scandal over the harvesting of Facebook users’ data by Cambridge Analytica, a US-British political research firm, for the 2016 US presidential election.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg told US lawmakers last month the firm plans to fall into line with the EU rules as it seeks to rebuild its reputation after the breach, which affected 87 million users.
The scandal has proved a godsend for the EU.
EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said in an interview that the incident fueled “a campaign” for the new European law in a way that she could never have done.
She said the EU was setting a global benchmark for data protection as many Americans who once criticized Europe as too set on regulation now see the need for the GDPR.
The Facebook scandal showed “that we really are living in the kind of jungle where we are losing ourselves,” the Czech commissioner added.
But not everything has run smoothly.
At least eight of the 28 EU countries will not have updated their laws by May 25.
The lack of preparedness comes despite the fact that the new laws were officially adopted two years ago, with a grace period until now to adapt to the rules.
This “will create some legal uncertainty,” Jourova said, blaming countries for neglect rather than resistance to the law.
Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter have all started in the last few weeks to alter their terms of use, but the situation appears more complicated for small- and medium-sized firms.
In Germany, the chamber of commerce and industry expressed fears smaller companies may react defiantly to what they call “excessive red tape” under threat of fines.
The new EU law establishes consumers’ “right to know” who is processing their information and what it will be used for.
Individuals will be able to block the processing of their data for commercial reasons and even have data deleted under the “right to be forgotten.”
They will have to be warned when there is unauthorized access, with the law establishing the key principle that individuals must explicitly grant permission for their data to be used.
Parents will decide for children until they reach the age of consent, which member states will set anywhere between 13 and 16 years old.
In return, EU officials argue that digital firms will benefit from regulation that restores consumer confidence and replaces the patchwork of national laws.
European leaders have backed the new laws.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech in Germany last week that he welcomed the “brave choice” of the new law, calling it a cornerstone in a new “digital sovereignty.”


WhatsApp dirty tricks alleged in Brazil presidential race

Updated 19 October 2018
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WhatsApp dirty tricks alleged in Brazil presidential race

  • Leftist candidate Fernando Haddad accused frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro of using WhatsApp to unleash fake news messages
  • here are 120 million WhatsApp user accounts in Brazil, whose population is 210 million
SAO PAULO, Brazil: Allegations of a dirty tricks campaign on WhatsApp dominated Brazil’s presidential election race on Thursday, turning attention to social media manipulation following abuses uncovered in the last US election and Britain’s Brexit referendum.
Trailing leftist candidate Fernando Haddad accused the far-right frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, of “illegal” electoral tactics after a report that companies were poised to unleash a flood of WhatsApp messages attacking him and his Workers Party.
Bolsonaro denied the allegation, tweeting that the Haddad’s Workers Party “isn’t being hurt by fake news, but by the TRUTH.”
The exchange happened 10 days before a run-off election that polls predict Bolsonaro — a bluff, Internet-savvy, pro-gun polemicist often compared to US President Donald Trump — will likely win comfortably.
Ordinary Brazilians told AFP they got much of their election information through WhatsApp. They said some in their families or entourage swallowed some misinformation, but denied they themselves were being influenced.
“We get a lot of news, even false news, but some true, about politics but I don’t think it changes very much in terms of making decisions,” said Ana Clara Valle, a 27-year-old engineer in Rio.
She said she was voting for Bolsonaro because of his Catholic, pro-family stance, not because of any “extreme right” sensibility.
Andre de Souza, a 35-year-old lawyer leaning toward voting for Bolsonaro, said he receives around 500 WhatsApp messages a day for and against both candidates.
The rumors and false information “don’t make a difference to me,” he said, but added: “My mother received a WhatsApp message saying Bolsonaro was doing away with (mandatory) end-of-year salary payments, and she believed it!“

Support by companies
Haddad made his accusation after Brazil’s widest circulation newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, reported it had discovered contracts worth up to $3.2 million each for companies to send out bulk WhatsApp messages attacking the Workers Party.
“We have identified a campaign of slander and defamation via WhatsApp and, given the mass of messages, we know that there was dirty money behind it, because it wasn’t registered with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Haddad told a media conference in Sao Paulo.
Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Tiago Ayres, told the financial daily Valor there was no evidence of any connection between the companies mentioned by Folha de Sao Paulo and Bolsonaro’s campaign.
The row shone a light on an issue that has become a pressing one in democracies: the organized abuse of social media to sway public opinion in countries.
Facebook — which owns WhatsApp, as well as popular image-based network Instagram — is the most prominent company that has come under scrutiny, though Twitter has also come in for criticism.
The platforms have made an effort to clean up who uses their services after evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US election that saw Trump triumph, and accusations Facebook allowed user data to be harvested to bolster the campaign the same year for Britain to leave the European Union.
Facebook has also shut down disinformation pages traced to campaigns believed to have ties to Iran’s state-owned media and to Russian military intelligence services.

No foreign interference
There is no evidence of foreign interference online in Brazil’s election.
The director of major polling firm Datafolha, Mauro Paulinho, said on Twitter that his company had detected “some shifts” in public opinion just before the first round of the election on October 7, which Bolsonaro won handily.
“Technical and factual observations” were made, he said, without drawing any conclusions.
There are 120 million WhatsApp user accounts in Brazil, whose population is 210 million. The app works as a popular social network for friends, families and work colleagues.
Both Haddad and Bolsonaro are the subject of memes, cartoons and slogans circulating online in Brazil.
Haddad, a former education minister and ex-mayor of Sao Paulo, has repeatedly tried to draw Bolsonaro into televised debates on policies.
The leftist candidate has an academic background he believes would give him an advantage if the exchanges moved away from the one-line quips and insults that characterize most social media communications.
But Bolsonaro, who skipped early debates because he was recovering from a knife stab wound after being attacked by a lone assailant while campaigning last month, has thus far shown little inclination to go head-to-head with Haddad.