Facebook was warned in 2011 of the loopholes exploited by UK data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) but said it saw no need to change its policies, an Austrian privacy campaigner said on Wednesday.
Max Schrems, an activist who has brought several cases before European courts to strengthen data protection online, said that the controversial data harvesting methods at the centre of the current scandal were exactly those he had raised in a complaint before the Irish Data Protection Authority in 2011.
The current scandal centres on an app which its developer says was used by 200,000 people, but which saw around 30 million US Facebook users’ details harvested.
The app’s vast reach beyond its users was due to it scooping up data from users’ friends on Facebook.
CA is accused of then improperly using the data for US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Schrems told AFP that as well as the 2011 case, he had a seven-hour meeting with Facebook representatives in 2012 to discuss concerns around apps operating in this fashion, but that they said they saw no problems with their policies.
“They explicitly said that in their view, by using the platform you consent to a situation where other people can install an app and gather your data,” Schrems said.
In addition, he said Facebook had no way of knowing whether the companies in receipt of the information would adhere to data protection regulations.
“There are thousands of other apps that have probably done exactly the same thing, the only reason we’re talking about this is because it’s to do with Trump. But it might not be the biggest case”.
“I’m surprised that Facebook are now claiming to have been ‘betrayed’ because of this behaviour,” Schrems said, adding: “Actually it’s not surprising – it’s more like laughable”.
Schrems is now launching a new NGO, NOYB (None Of Your Business) to help individuals enforce their rights under new EU data regulations due to come into effect in May.
The current scandal has wiped billions off Facebook’s market value and had also led to the suspension of CA chief executive Alexander Nix.
In undercover filming captured by the UK’s Channel 4 television, Nix was seen boasting about entrapping politicians and secretly operating in elections around the world through shadowy front companies.