Student group europe-v-facebook threatens to challenge DPC’s findings

4 Dec 2012

A student group that has been campaigning for better data protection by Facebook for more than a year is willing to go to court to contest the the Irish Data Protection Commission’s findings in its audit of Facebook Ireland.

Facebook’s international headquarters are in Dublin.

The group europe-v-facebook, which had pushed to have Facebook switch off its facial-recognition feature in Europe, said the changes it has made aren’t enough, RTÉ reported.

The group had also filed several complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), which then conducted an audit on Facebook Ireland this year. Its response disappointed europe-v-facebook.

“The Irish authority is miles away from other European data protection authorities in its understanding of the law, and failed to investigate many things. Facebook also gave the authority the runaround,” europe-v-facebook said in a statement.

“We now hope for a soon settlement of our complaints. Simultaneaously we have to assume that the authority in many cases won’t decide in the favour of users but in the favour of Facebook. Such a decision can be contested by us at court,” the group added.

Group founder Max Schrems said, “If we get these things before the courts, it is very likely that it goes all the way to the European Court of Justice.

“Such a case would be a landmark for the whole IT industry, equally to the anti-trust cases against Microsoft.”

In September, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said Facebook went beyond the initial recommendations of the Data Protection Commission by turning off tag suggest/facial recognition features.

A review published at the time by the Data Protection Commissioner confirmed that the great majority of recommendations made by its office to Facebook had been acted upon, including greater transparency for the user in terms of how his or her data is handled and greater control over settings.

In a statement, Facebook said it is committed to providing a service that enables millions of European citizens to connect and share with their friends around the world. 

“The way Facebook Ireland handles European personal data has been subject to thorough review by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner over the past year,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“The two detailed reports that the DPC has produced by the DPC demonstrate that Facebook Ireland complies with European data protection principles and Irish law. Nonetheless we have some vocal critics who will never be happy whatever we do and whatever the DPC concludes.”

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic