MPs from 3 parties agree: it's time to impose tougher regulations on Facebook
The logo for social media giant Facebook, appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square on March 29, 2018. (AP / Richard Drew)
After a report from the federal and B.C. privacy commissioners accused Facebook of allowing user data to be improperly shared, MPs from Canada’s three biggest political parties say that more regulation is needed.
The report found that Facebook let a third-party app called “This is Your Digital Life” (TYDL) collect names, genders, profile photos, current cities, friends lists and private messages of users without their “meaningful consent.” That information was then shared with Cambridge Analytica, a company involved in targeting users with political messaging, according to the report.
Facebook has said it takes the investigation seriously and offered to enter into a compliance agreement, but privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said Facebook rebuffed his findings and that he doesn’t have the enforcement powers needed to “insist that they act responsibly.”
Conservative MP John Brassard, who represents the Ontario riding of Barrie—Innisfil, said the report makes clear that stronger regulation is necessary.
“Not just tougher regulation, but also the ability for them to enforce the privacy breaches like the one they’ve identified with Facebook,” he told CTV’s Question Period in a segment that airs Sunday.
New Democrat MP Daniel Blaikie said he agrees that either the privacy commissioner or another regulatory body needs more power to enforce privacy rules.
“I think when a multinational company like that picks a fight with a Canadian regulator, it’s the job of the Canadian government to step in,” the Manitoba MP said.
“Many of our allies across the world are beginning to implement these kinds of regulations,” Blaikie added. “Canada is becoming a laggard in this regard.”
Liberal MP Arif Virani, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, said he agrees more steps need to be taken, but disagrees with Blaikie’s assertion that Canada is lagging behind.
Virani said that Canada was the first country to regulate political interference and political advertising across social media platforms, and that it has implemented $100,000 fines for some types of privacy breaches.
Brassard said that $100,000 fines do not go far enough. “They make that in 60 seconds,” he said of Facebook, which reported a record US$6.88 billion profit in 2018.
Blaikie said the time for action is now. “They want to leave it to industry,” he said of the Liberals. “They’re kind of beholden to this philosophy of industry self-regulation.”
Additional regulations for social networks?
During her latest appearance before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on April 11, Gould said that she is not ruling out bringing forward additional regulations for social media companies before the fall campaign.
She had first floated this possibility days prior, during a media availability discussing the latest report from the Communications Security Establishment, which stated that the next federal election is "very likely" going to be the target of foreign cyber interference. The report also flagged that social media has become the predominate space where people access information, and as a result is often where these cyber interferers are looking to manipulate information.
At the time the report was released, the minister said that she wasn’t confident that “they are disclosing everything with us.”
“I think from experiences we’ve seen around the world that there is a lot left to be desired in terms of how seriously they’re taking these issues,” Gould said.
Facing additional questions from committee members on this, Gould told MPs that “this is a moment where all options are on the table,” as these platforms need to be doing more than they have so far committed to when it comes to preventing the spread of disinformation or other forms of malicious cyber activity.
This comes after the federal government’s initial plan to ask, but not force these companies to step up with integrity and transparency measures, had “varying degrees of success.”
Other countries have taken more concrete approaches to regulating and holding social networks accountable, including the U.K. and Australia. Gould told the committee that she’d like to see more initiative from the big networks to illustrate how they are cracking down on misinformation and shoring up areas vulnerable to manipulation. Though, Gould said that without any policy requiring this, a core driver of the networks’ incentive to do so is its reputation with Canadians.