Belfast Telegraph

Data harvesting revelations a 'turning point' as minister promises new legal powers

By David Hughes

The disclosures about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (CA)have marked a "turning point" in people's attitudes to their online data, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Mr Hancock said he understood why people were deleting their accounts with the social media giant and promised the Information Commissioner would get beefed-up powers.

But the data watchdog has yet to be granted a warrant to search CA's computers as part of its current investigation and Mr Hancock acknowledged the "system isn't good enough" at present.

A High Court judge adjourned the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) application for a warrant until today.

Mr Hancock said: "After this week's revelations I think it is time that social media platforms come clean with what data they really hold on people.

"We didn't know the details of the revelations that came out at the weekend but the Information Commissioner already had an investigation to get to the bottom of these sorts of problems.

"It is clear to me that the rules need to be strengthened to make sure that she has the enforcement powers that we need."

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said it was a mistake to rely on Cambridge Analytica to delete tens of millions of Facebook users' data and apologised for the "major breach of trust".

He said the political consultancy had provided assurances that information harvested from 50 million profiles had been destroyed after Facebook first learned of the breach in 2015.

Mr Zuckerberg set out a series of measures to toughen up the site's policies. He said he was now open to Facebook being regulated and accepted that malign actors were trying to use the social network for political ends.

But the Culture Secretary said it should not be up to individual sites to decide how to respond as he highlighted plans to strengthen data law.

Mr Hancock - who has faced privacy concerns over his own social media app for constituents - said the Data Protection Bill would strengthen the rules.

"I think this week has marked a turning point in people's attitude towards the big platforms," he said.

"You can't just let the companies decide what is the balance between privacy and use of data and innovation. That is a decision for society, reflected in the laws that we pass here."

Facebook has seen billions of US dollars wiped off its market value following the row involving CA, which is accused of using the data to help Donald Trump's US presidential campaign target political ads on the platform.

The company has denied using Facebook data in its work on the campaign and added: "We're committed to being responsible, fair and secure with data."

The scandal has prompted calls from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for Mr Zuckerberg to answer to them in person for the breach and led to an online campaign for people to delete their profiles.

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