Canada privacy watchdog rebukes Facebook

Published: Updated:

Canada’s privacy commissioner said on Thursday Facebook broke the law when it harvested data from 600,000 citizens -- and vowed to go to court to force reforms at the social networking giant.

Daniel Therrien’s findings were the result of an investigation into the California tech company’s role in a worldwide data scandal involving the now-defunct British consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

“Facebook’s refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive personal information users have entrusted to this company,” Therrien said.

His investigation followed revelations that the personal details of tens of millions of Facebook users worldwide was hijacked by Cambridge Analytica as it worked for US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The probe found that Facebook had violated federal statutes and provincial laws in British Columbia by giving unauthorized third-party access to 600,000 Canadians.

The company failed to obtain meaningful consent from “friends of friends” on the platform, he said, and took no responsibility for personal information.

Therrien, who carried out his investigation with a provincial counterpart in British Columbia, said Facebook disputed his findings and has refused to heed his recommendations.

“The stark contradiction between Facebook’s public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we’ve identified -- or even acknowledge that it broke the law -- is extremely concerning,” he said.

He recommended that the federal government urgently revise the law to mandate closer inspections of social networks’ privacy practices and impose hefty penalties for law-breakers.

Facebook said on Wednesday it expected to be hit with a fine of $3 billion to $5 billion by the US Federal Trade Commission for “user data practices,” and had factored that into its earnings report.

The company did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Therrien’s findings.