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Facebook Inc broke Canadian privacy laws when it collected the information of some 600,000 citizens, a top watchdog said on Thursday, pledging to seek a court order to force the social media giant to change its practices.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien made his comments while releasing the results of an investigation, opened a year ago, into a data sharing scandal involving Facebook and the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
Though Facebook has acknowledged a “major breach of trust” in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company disputed the results of the Canadian probe, Therrien said.
“Facebook’s refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive personal information users have entrusted to this company,” said Therrien.
Specifically, the company refused to voluntarily submit to audits of its privacy policies and practices over the next five years, he said.
“The stark contradiction between Facebook’s public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we’ve identified “or even acknowledge that it broke the law ” is extremely concerning,” he added.
Facebook was not immediately available for comment. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner does not have the power to levy financial penalties, but it can seek court orders to force an entity to follow its recommendations.
It could take a year to obtain a court order, Therrien said.
The investigation revealed there was an “overall lack of responsibility” with people’s personal information that means “there is a high risk that” their data “could be used in ways that they do not know or suspect, exposing them to potential harms.”
Apart from privacy violations by Facebook, the investigation also highlighted problems with regulating social media. Facebook’s rejection of the watchdog’s recommendations revealed “critical weaknesses” in the current legislation, Therrien added, urging lawmakers to give his office more sanctioning power.
“We should not count on all companies to act responsibility and therefore a new law should ensure a third party, a regulator, holds companies responsible,” Therrien said.
Canadian Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who this month said the government might have to regulate Facebook and other social media companies unless they did more to help combat foreign meddling in this October’s election, will react later on Thursday, a spokeswoman said.
Facebook said on Wednesday it had set aside $3 billion to cover a settlement with U.S. regulators probing revelations that the company had inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million of its users with Cambridge Analytica.