Plans for mass legal action a sobering reminder to social media giants of their privacy obligations – Seery-Kearney

16th April 2021 - Mary Seery-Kearney

Plans for a mass legal action over the recent Facebook data leak are a sobering reminder to social media giants of their privacy obligations, a Fine Gael Senator has said.

Senator Mary Seery-Kearney, Seanad spokesperson on Privacy Rights, said the possibility of a successful class action, on top of a possible fine by the Data Protection Commission, would be very effective in reminding companies of their responsibilities in relation to personal data.

Senator Seery-Kearney said: “I welcome the actions taken by Digital Rights Ireland in mobilising those affected by the dumping of their personal data, taken from Facebook in the public domain.

“GDPR provides for the right to take a class action and means that one case can be presented that will discharge the rights and entitlements of multiples, and in this instance potentially millions, of Facebook users.

“This action can run concurrently with the investigation taken by the Data Protection Commission.”

Senator Seery-Kearney continued: “There are questions to be answered by Facebook.  Did they file a data processing impact assessment in relation to the feature they introduced on the platform that lead to the breach? Did the assessment not anticipate a third party utilising it for nefarious purposes?

“They deem the action as data scraping, a technique commonly used in sales teams outside of Facebook, but is it lawful to data scrape from a social media platform?

“I would also query what systems Facebook put in place to detect such actions when they designed the original application to increase ‘friends’ within the platform?”

Senator Seery-Kearney said: “The recent fining of Twitter by the Data Protection Commission, while welcome, was considered to be inadequate given the size of Twitters turnover, and an insufficient deterrent.

“Some deemed the €450k fine as mere pocket change to a company of Twitter’s size. The Data Protection Commission have the scope to fine a company up to 4% of its worldwide turnover in a case of a serious breach.

“However, in this instance, the possibility of a successful class action, on top of a possible fine by the Data Protection Commissioner, would be very effective in reminding companies of their serious responsibilities in relation to the personal data they hold.”

Senator Seery-Kearney concluded: “Taking on a social media giant is no small feat, and I completely understand Digital Rights Ireland’s need to seek a contribution from each of those affected and willing to bring forward their experience to contribute to the action.

“It may not be successful but given the size of the potential number of plaintiffs, the risk is shared. I would hope that the fact of taking the action and the potential reputational damage arising out of same would be a sobering reminder to the social media giants of their obligations to ensure privacy by design.”

ENDS

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