The decision Facebook’s referring to is a preliminary order handed down last month to stop the transfer of data about European customers to servers in the U.S., over concerns about U.S. government surveillance of the data. Facebook hit back by filing a lawsuit challenging the Irish DPC’s ban, and in a sworn affidavit filed this week, the company leveled some very serious accusations about the Irish data-protection commissioner, including a lack of fairness and apparent bias in singling out Facebook. Cunnane points out that Facebook was given only three weeks to respond to the decision, a period that is “manifestly inadequate,” adding that Facebook wasn’t contacted about the inquiry prior to judgment being handed down.
She also raises concerns about the decision being made “solely” by Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner.
When former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne revealed his 11-year-old was “desperate to have a Facebook account”, he was invited to bring them to visit the firm's office The memo records Sandberg’s meeting with Osborne, as documented by Marne Levine, then Facebook’s vice-president of global public policy.
“The fact one person is responsible for the entire process is relevant to [Facebook’s] concerns, in respect of the inadequacy of the investigative process engaged in and independence of the ultimate decision-making process,” Cunnane wrote.Cunnane also complains that Facebook is being singled out, noting no other big tech company using similar methods to transfer data to the U.S. from the EU is under the same scrutiny.
“This gives rise to an apprehension that [Facebook] is not being treated equally,” Cullinane wrote. “If [Facebook] alone is being investigated and subject to a suspension of data transfers to the U.S., this would be liable to create a serious distortion of competition.”
The Irish DPC declined to comment to VICE News. Facebook denies that it is trying to force the regulator to change its decision with a threat with withdraw its services.
“Facebook is not threatening to withdraw from Europe,” a Facebook spokesperson said, adding that the court filing simply lays out how “Facebook, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate their services.”
The documents, which include emails, webchats, presentations, spreadsheets and meeting summaries, show how Zuckerberg, along with his board and management team, found ways to tap Facebook’s trove of user data — including information about friends, relationships and photos — as leverage over companies it partnered with.
A judge last week allowed Facebook’s challenge to go ahead and put a stay on the DPC’s ban on data transfers — though the DPC can challenge that decision.
Besides threatening to close down Facebook and Instagram completely, Cunnane also points out that Facebook is an important tool for the freedom of expression of its 410 million EU users — it also reportedly generated €208 billion in sales for companies who use the platforms.What she failed to mention, though, is that the service has also been weaponized to sow disinformation and conspiracy theories, as well as being used to influence the results of votes across the region, including the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU.
Facebook’s entire business model relies on being able to easily and quickly transfer data across the globe so that it can better target users with ads. By disrupting that flow of data, the EU is threatening Facebook’s revenue potential, and as this lawsuit shows, that is something the company takes very seriously indeed.
But Facebook’s ultimatum is little more than an empty threat, according to privacy experts.“The idea that Facebook would withdraw from the European market is absurd brinksmanship that I don’t think anyone truly believes,” Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, told VICE News.
Cover: In this illustration photo, the logo of Facebook is displayed on a smartphone in Tehatta, Nadia, West Bengal; India on June 4, 2020. (Photo Illustrattion by Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via AP)