Did Facebook try to influence data protection laws?

A report in the Observer suggests Facebook may have tried to put pressure on politicians to lobby for the social network against data privacy legislation.

Company memos read by the newspaper appear to paint a picture of Mark Zuckerberg’s firm attempting to lobby law makers and regulator offices in order to influence the evolution of prospective new data laws that would impact on the way Facebook does business. The tech giant may also have threatened to withhold investment if it couldn’t reach comfortable legal arrangements.

The information surfaced within a court case now underway in California, the most progressive state in the US in terms of attitudes towards data protection and user privacy.

Enda Kenny, Irish prime minister from 2011 to 2017 is described in the internal documents as one of Facebook’s “friends” and is claimed to have used his position to work in the social network’s favour in Europe.

The current and former heads of Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, Helen Dixon and her predecessor, Billy Hawkes, told the Irish Times that Mr Kenny did not influence data protection regulations to help Facebook during his time in office.

The report in the Observer explains the memo’s detailing of a meeting that took place between then UK chancellor George Osborne and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. It is claimed that Sandberg asked Osborne to be “even more active and vocal in the European Data Directive debate and really help shape the proposals”.

In response, Osborne told the Observer:

“I don’t think it’s a surprise that the UK chancellor would meet the chief operating officer of one of the world’s largest companies … Facebook and other US tech firms, in private, as in public, raised concerns about the proposed European Data Directive … I didn’t follow up on those concerns, or lobby the EU, because I didn’t agree with them.”

A spokesperson from Facebook informed the paper that the company could not issue a full response because the memos in question are currently being held in a court in California.

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