Germany is the latest country to demand answers from Facebook after it emerged data from 50 million users was used to inform targeted election campaigns. German Justice Minister Katharina Barley on Thursday called such methods “a danger to democracy.”
“The European Facebook management [team] must submit a comprehensive position on the scandal to the German government,” Barley told the Funke MedienGruppe on Thursday, demanding Facebook representatives visit her ministry in Berlin.
It’s unacceptable that data is used “against users’ will in order to bombard them with election advertising or hate against political opponents,” she continued. “Such campaigning methods are a danger to democracy.”
Barley’s comments came as pressure grew on Facebook from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic in the wake of a scandal involving British analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, which used personal data to issue targeted campaign material to voters during the 2016 US election, among others.
German data protection officers have long had Facebook and its associated Apps in their sights, particularly for the now-abandoned practice of collecting users’ friends data without their expressed consent.
Thursday’s move shows that Barley, who has been in office a little over a week, will continue the tough stance taken by her predecessor Heiko Maas against the social media giant.
European data protection rules are much stricter than in the US, where Facebook has its headquarters. Germany has some of the tightest privacy regulations on the continent, partly due to its past experience with dictatorships and mass state surveillance.
Particularly questionable in the Cambridge Analytica case is whether users knew what their data would be used for when they consented to sharing it. If they turn out not to have been told their data would be used for political campaigning, such consent may not be valid under European rules.
A new EU-wide data protection regulation comes into force this May, much of which was drafted in close consultation with German privacy authorities. From that point on, companies breaking privacy rules could face fines of up to 4 percent of their global annual turnover.