Europe will fight Mark Zuckerberg's plan for Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg has put Facebook on a collision course with European regulators.

The CEO wrote Wednesday in a lengthy blog post that he plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger, making it easier for users to communicate across the Facebook-owned platforms.

The plan is likely to run into stiff opposition in Europe, where sweeping privacy rules were imposed last year and regulators have already warned Facebook against sharing data between its companies.

In January, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) released an unusual statement when the New York Times first reported that Zuckerberg wanted to unify the underlying infrastructure of the apps.

Ireland acts as Facebook's lead regulator in the European Union on issues of privacy because that's where the company has its regional headquarters. The DPC requested "an urgent briefing on what is being proposed" and said it would be "very closely scrutinizing" the tech company's plans.

"Previous proposals to share data between Facebook companies have given rise to significant data protection concerns and the Irish DPC will be seeking early assurances that all such concerns will be fully taken into account," it said.

Facebook said in a statement Thursday that its plans are "still in the early stages" and that "integration will take time and discussion to build as there are technical and other challenges that need to be considered carefully."

The company said it would continue to work with the Irish regulator on privacy issues. The DPC declined to elaborate on its January statement.

But the problems with Zuckerberg's vision for Facebook don't end with concerns about data privacy. EU antitrust regulators, who also declined to comment on Thursday, could get involved.

Anti-competitive behavior?

Just last month, Germany's antitrust office ruled that Facebook was abusing its dominant market position by combining its data with information from Instagram, WhatsApp and third party websites.

It banned the company from continuing the practice without the explicit agreement of users.

Zuckerberg argued in his blog post that integrating the messaging services would make them more convenient. He also said privacy would be enhanced because more messages could be encrypted.

Paul Bernal, a privacy expert and lecturer in media law at the University of East Anglia, said that Zuckerberg's arguments were not going to convince regulators.

"By pretending that the real issue is the content of the messages, which he will protect and respect, he's hoping to distract from the much more important issue of the metadata," Bernal said.

Metadata, which includes information on who is communicating with whom, when and how, is crucial for Facebook's business.

"[It] allows the profiling that is key for the targeting, both of advertising and content, that makes [Facebook] money, but that also represents the biggest risk to people's privacy and autonomy," he said.

The European Consumer Organisation, a consumer lobby group, said that Facebook's plans "raise concerns from a privacy and a competition point of view."

"It will be hugely important that regulators, from the data protection, competition and consumer protection realm, will closely scrutinize these plans in case Facebook decides to proceed," the group's digital rights leader, David Martin, said in a statement.

Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp in 2014, by far its largest acquisition ever. In 2017, the European Commission hit Facebook with a €110 million ($123 million) fine for misleading regulators.

The social media giant told the Commission during a 2014 regulatory review that it would not be able to match up existing Facebook user profiles with WhatsApp phone numbers. But two years later it did exactly that.

Facebook said it was an honest mistake.

Bernal warned that integrating the messaging services could also aggravate Facebook's problems with fake news and extremist content.

"The big problems will not just remain but in all likelihood grow as the platforms are merged and the profiling gets more accurate and invasive," he said.

Source: CNN

Europe, fight Mark Zuckerberg's plan for Facebook
 
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