Facebook wants a judge to toss out the Canadian privacy watchdog’s findings that the social media company’s “lax practices” caused personal data to be used for political purposes.
A new report from National Post explains that Privacy Commissioner Daniel Thierren’s probe “was neither impartial nor independent, and lacked procedural fairness,” Facebook alleges in a submission to the Federal Court of Canada.
Last year, the watchdog tried and failed to obtain assurances from Facebook that it was now able to prevent the unauthorized use of private information by third-party apps. In February, the Thierren took the case to the Federal Court, hoping for a declaration that Facebook has contravened Canada’s federal private-sector privacy law.
The probe followed reports that Facebook let an outside organization use a digital app to access users’ personal information, and that some of the data was then passed to others — highlighted primarily in the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal.
“The commissioners concluded that Facebook broke Canada’s privacy law governing companies by failing to obtain valid and meaningful consent of installing users and their friends, and that it had ‘inadequate safeguards’ to protect user information,” explains the report.
In its new filing with the Federal Court, Facebook says that the Privacy Commissioner’s audit was disguised as an investigation into complaints about a specific breach of law, and that there was no evidence that any Canadian’s personal data had been improperly used. “The [commissioner] should never have investigated the complaint or should have discontinued it once the investigation failed to turn up the required Canadian nexus,” says Facebook.
In addition, Facebook alleges the Privacy Watchdog’s office “did not disclose the true, sweeping scope” of the probe until just before the 2019 report’s release. “Consequently, Facebook did not know the allegations it had to meet and was denied a fair opportunity to respond to the investigation.”
The federal government has promise to strengthen privacy laws, including through new and larger fines against companies that fail to protect the personal information of Canadians. A spokeswoman for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said the plan will include setting up a new watchdog called the Data Commissioner.
“This will ensure that we have the right set of tools to regulate large digital companies to better protect people’s personal data and encourage greater competition in the digital marketplace,” said spokeswoman Véronique Simard.