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New EU Ad rules have forced Facebook to admit they don't have control or explainability over how their systems use customer data

1 x cover Mark Zuckerberg


Facebook is facing what it describes internally as a "tsunami" of privacy regulations all over the world, which will force the company to dramatically change how it deals with users’ personal data. And the "fundamental" problem, the company admits, is that Facebook has no idea where all of its user data goes, or what it’s doing with it, according to a leaked internal document obtained by Motherboard.


Facebook states that "We’ve built systems with open borders. The result of these open systems and open culture is well described with an analogy: Imagine you hold a bottle of ink in your hand. This bottle of ink is a mixture of all kinds of user data (3PD, 1PD, SCD, Europe, etc.) You pour that ink into a lake of water (our open data systems; our open culture) … and it flows … everywhere,” the document read. “How do you put that ink back in the bottle? How do you organize it again, such that it only flows to the allowed places in the lake?"


In the document's Executive Summary Facebook states in-part:


  • We were surprised in 2021 with regulatory changes in the EU and India that will restrict 1P data [First-Party Data] use; setting the stage for a global regulatory push towards consent for 1P data use in ads.
  • We do not have an adequate level of control and explainability over how our systems use data, and thus we can't confidently make controlled policy changes or external commitments such as "we will not use X data for Y purpose." And yet, this is exactly what regulators expect us to do, increasing our risk of mistakes and misrepresentation.
  • Addressing these challenges will require additional multi-year investment in Ads and our infrastructure teams to gain control over how our systems ingest, process and egest data.


The document later revealed Facebook engineers stating: "Our short term response to these requirements is to build "Basic Ads." A new product initiative that needs to be launch-ready in Europe by January 2022.


A former Facebook employee, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation, reviewed the document for Motherboard, stated "It is a damning admission, but also offers Facebook legal cover because of how much it would cost Facebook to fix this mess,” he added. “It gives them the excuse for keeping that much private data simply because at their scale and with their business model and infrastructure design they can plausibly claim that they don't know what they have."


Privacy experts who have been fighting against Facebook in an attempt to limit how the company uses private data say they believe the document is an admission that it cannot comply with regulations.


Johnny Ryan, a privacy activist and senior fellow at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, told Motherboard in an online chat: "This document admits what we long suspected: that there is a data free-for-all inside Facebook, and that the company has no control whatsoever over the data it holds. It is a black and white recognition of the absence of any data protection. Facebook details how it breaks each principle of data protection law. Everything it does to our data is illegal. You’re not allowed to have an internal data free-for-all." For more on this, read the full Motherboard report.


The new and complicated rules set out by the EU about ads is now compounded by yet another round of complexity about what the EU considers to be free speech and disinformation. This will affect Facebook but also Elon Musk's Twitter where "free speech" will reportedly allow all voices to express themselves (within reason).


The EU basically warned, if not threaten Elon Musk's view of free speech in Europe.  


Yahoo reports that "Europe isn’t convinced by Elon Musk pitch he will make Twitter (TWTR) a bastion for free speech as Brussels warns the world’s richest man that it must stick to EU rules.


EU’s commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, said Elon Musk knows that companies operating in Europe must stick to its rules, including new legislation which will force major technology firms to tackle illegal and harmful content online.


Breton said: “We welcome everyone. We are open but on our conditions. At least we know what to tell him: ‘Elon, there are rules. You are welcome but these are our rules. It’s not your rules which will apply here."


The penalties are steep: "Not doing so could open up platforms to bans or sanctions of up to 6% of their global turnover."


Asked about a possible return of former US president Donald Trump to Twitter, Breton said that the DSA also regulates decisions on who to ban by setting conditions and possibilities for appeal.


You almost have to wonder if Twitter wanted Elon Musk to take over the company knowing full well that they couldn't comply with the new EU rules. It'll be interesting to see how both Facebook and Twitter will react to EU sanctions regarding non-approved content and banned personalities. Interesting times are ahead for social media to be sure.  


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