Canada’s privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said Monday that reports of Facebook users’ private information being used for political purposes “raise serious privacy concerns.”
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In a statement provided to Global News, Therrien said that his office will be reaching out to the social media website to seek further information about how Canadians may have been affected.
“Our office will be reaching out to Facebook to seek information regarding whether Canadians’ personal information was affected by the issues raised in those reports,” the statement read. “That will help us determine possible next steps.”
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The statement added that in March 2016 the privacy commissioner asked Parliament to “consider regulating the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by political parties.”
“Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that the privacy rights of Canadian Facebook users are protected,” Therrien said, adding that his office has offered to help U.K. officials in their investigation.
But it remains unclear what, if any, action the Canadian government will take in light of recent reports.
Facebook is reeling from weekend reports that the private information of more than 50 million users was accessed by a firm that worked on U.S. President Donald Trump‘s election campaign.
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The New York Times and The Observer reported on Saturday that the political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the private data.
The abuse of data was first revealed by Canadian whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who used to work as a researcher for Cambridge Analytica.
“It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with an entire country, the psychology of an entire country, without their consent or awareness,” Wylie said in an interview with The Observer.
On Monday, Facebook faced criticism and demands for further investigation from around the world. Its shares fell more than seven per cent, wiping around US$40 billion off its market value, set for their biggest drop since September 2012.
The news added to scrutiny the social media site is already facing, in addition to Russians’ use of Facebook tools to sway American voters with “fake news” posts before and after the 2016 U.S. election.
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University of Toronto assistant professor Alex Hanna, who studies social media and data collection, explained that Facebook users don’t have much control over the situation.
“There’s not a lot of things you could do on Facebook itself,” the professor said.
“There’s certain information that you volunteer, like your private information. But there’s other information about what you like, what you interact with, how long you stay on particular pages — that’s what Facebook actually is much more interested in.”
Hanna added that there are two things users can do. The first is staying away from adding apps to their profiles — things like quizzes, personality tests and games.
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The second is pushing for legislative change.
“I think there’s a lot more potential of legislative control that needs to be created in Canada, which protect consumers who use online social networking platforms to make sure that the responsibility is not on the user to read a very long document of what their data is going to be used for,” Hanna said.
— With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press
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