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Facebook’s dodgy defaults face more scrutiny in Europe

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Italy’s Competition and Markets Authority has launched proceedings against Facebook for failing to fully inform users about the commercial uses it makes of their data.

At the same time, a German court has today upheld a consumer group’s right to challenge the tech giant over data and privacy issues in the national courts.

Lack of transparency

The Italian authority’s action, which could result in a fine of €5 million for Facebook, follows an earlier decision by the regulator, in November 2018 — when it found the company had not been dealing plainly with users about the underlying value exchange involved in signing up to the “free” service, and fined Facebook €5 million for failing to properly inform users how their information would be used commercially.

In a press notice about its latest action, the watchdog notes Facebook has removed a claim from its homepage — which had stated that the service “is free and always will be” — but finds users are still not being informed, “with clarity and immediacy” about how the tech giant monetizes their data.

The Authority had prohibited Facebook from continuing what it dubs “deceptive practice” and ordered it to publish an amending declaration on its homepage in Italy, as well as on the Facebook app and on the personal page of each registered Italian user.

In a statement responding to the watchdog’s latest action, a Facebook spokesperson told us:

We are reviewing the Authority decision. We made changes last year — including to our Terms of Service — to further clarify how Facebook makes money. These changes were part of our ongoing commitment to give people more transparency and control over their information.

Last year Italy’s data protection agency also fined Facebook $1.1 million — in that case for privacy violations attached to the Cambridge Analytics data misuse scandal.

Dodgy defaults

In separate but related news, a ruling by a German court today found that Facebook can continue to use the advertising slogan that its service is “free and always will be” — on the grounds that it does not require users to hand over monetary payments in exchange for using the service.

A local consumer rights group, vzbv, had sought to challenge Facebook’s use of the slogan — arguing it’s misleading, given the platform’s harvesting of user data for targeted ads. But the court disagreed.

However, that was only one of a number of data protection complaints filed by the group — 26 in all. And the Berlin court found in its favor on a number of other fronts.

Significantly, vzbv has won the right to bring data protection-related legal challenges within Germany even with the pan-EU General Data Protection Regulation in force — opening the door to strategic litigation by consumer advocacy bodies and privacy rights groups in what is a very pro-privacy market.

This looks interesting because one of Facebook’s favored legal arguments in a bid to derail privacy challenges at an EU Member State level has been to argue those courts lack jurisdiction — given that its European HQ is sited in Ireland (and GDPR includes provision for a one-stop shop mechanism that pushes cross-border complaints to a lead regulator).

But this ruling looks like it will make it tougher for Facebook to funnel all data and privacy complaints via the heavily backlogged Irish regulator — which has, for example, been sitting on a GDPR complaint over forced consent by adtech giants (including Facebook) since May 2018.

The Berlin court also agreed with vzbv’s argument that Facebook’s privacy settings and T&Cs violate laws around consent — such as a location service being already activated in the Facebook mobile app; and a pre-ticked setting that made users’ profiles indexable by search engines by default

The court also agreed that certain pre-formulated conditions in Facebook’s T&C do not meet the required legal standard — such as a requirement that users agree to their name and profile picture being used “for commercial, sponsored or related content,” and another stipulation that users agree in advance to all future changes to the policy.

Commenting in a statement, Heiko Dünkel from the law enforcement team at vzbv, said: “It is not the first time that Facebook has been convicted of careless handling of its users’ data. The Chamber of Justice has made it clear that consumer advice centers can take action against violations of the GDPR.”

We’ve reached out to Facebook for a response.

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George Santos, Who Falsely Claimed His Grandparents Fled Hitler, Reportedly Joked About Killing “Jews and Blacks”

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George Santos, Who Falsely Claimed His Grandparents Fled Hitler, Reportedly Joked About Killing “Jews and Blacks”

One of George Santos’s biggest and most offensive lies was the one he told, on multiple occasions, about having grandparents who’d had to run for their lives during the Holocaust. In 2021, the then candidate claimed in a campaign video that his “grandparents survived the Holocaust.” Several months later, he told the Jewish News Syndicate: “I’m very proud of my grandparents’ story,” which he said included “fleeing Hitler.” Perhaps laying the groundwork for his explanation in the event he got caught in this specific fabrication, he told Fox News Digital in February: “For a lot of people who are descendants of World War II refugees or survivors of the Holocaust, a lot of names and paperwork were changed in name of survival.”

Like so many things that have come out of Santos’s mouth, the one about his grandparents and the Holocaust does not, in fact, appear to be true, as multiple genealogy records indicate his grandparents were born in Brazil and, according to one genealogist who spoke to CNN, “There’s no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way.” Perhaps another sign that Santos does not have family members who were hunted by Adolf Hitler? His alleged willingness to joke about Hitler killing Jews, and Black people too.

Patch reports that in March 2011, Santos commented on a Facebook photo shared by a friend showing “someone making what appears to be a military salute with the caption ‘something like Hitler’.” Commenting below, Santos allegedly wrote: “hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh hiiiiiiiiiiiitlerrrrrrrrrrr (hight hitler) lolololololololololololol sombody kill her!! the jews and black mostly lolllolol!!! Dum.” A former friend told the outlet they recalled seeing the offensive comment, took a screenshot and sent it along. Patch says it also “verified through another former friend, Gregory Morey-Parker, that the original Facebook post under which Santos wrote the Hitler comment existed.” Presumably that will not be the case for very long. Morey-Parker, who was also once roommates with Santos, also told Patch that the newly sworn-in congressman would regularly make offensive jokes, typically about paying the bill for meals, “but he brushed it off saying he was Jewish. He’d always say that it was okay for him to make those jokes because he was Jewish,” Morey-Parker recalled. (Santos has copped to the fact that he is not actually Jewish, by insisting he never said he was. “I never claimed to be Jewish,” he said in an interview with the New York Post shortly after many of his lies initially came to light. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”)

In an email, Santos’s attorney claimed to Patch that the comment was somehow fake, writing: “the Facebook comment that you reference…is completely false, absolutely disgusting — There is absolutely nothing to talk about.”



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Sui-Based Ethos Wallet Raises $4.2M in Seed Round

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Sui-Based Ethos Wallet Raises $4.2M in Seed Round

“When we first set our sights on developing a wallet on the Sui blockchain, it became our mission to evolve what a crypto wallet is. Currently, they are viewed as a place to store crypto assets, however, they have the capability to do much more,” Eldeib said in the press release. “With Ethos, we’re working on developing, discovering and interacting with blockchain-based applications and to make those interactions safer and easier to use.”

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Donald Trump allowed back on Instagram and Facebook, Meta announces

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Donald Trump allowed back on Instagram and Facebook, Meta announces

Donald Trump will be allowed back on Facebook and Instagram, as parent company Meta announced it would be ending its two-year suspension of his accounts. His suspension will end “in the coming weeks”, the social media company confirmed, with Sir Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, saying the public “should be able to hear what their politicians are saying”. Sir Nick added that the company will add “new guardrails” to Mr Trump’s account “to deter repeat offences” just over two years after he used social media to incite an attack on the US Capitol. Sign up for our newsletters.

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