• Facebook’s parent company fined €1.2 bn. for GDPR breach

    New logo as Facebook morphs into MetaMeta, the parent company of social media platform Facebook, has been fined a record €1.2 bn. by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) in relation to breaches of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in respect of user data transfers from the EU to the USA, Irish broadcaster RTE reports.

    The company has been given five months to implement changes to such data transfers.

    The DPC said Meta had infringed the GDPR by continuing to transfer EU user data to the US despite a ruling by the European court of justice requiring strong protection of such information, adding that the data transferred by Facebook under a measure called standard contractual clauses “did not address the risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects that were identified by the [European Court of Justice] in its judgment”.

    Meta has said it will appeal the decision, as well as commenting that it was disappointed to have been singled out when using the same legal mechanisms as thousands of other companies providing services in Europe.

    The EU and the USA have agreed a new data transfer framework which is expected to be in place later this year.

    This is the largest ever fine levied in the EU for a privacy breach. The previous record penalty of €746 mn was imposed on Amazon in 2021.

  • Firefox Focus – first impressions

    Your ‘umble scribe is a great fan of the free and open source Firefox web browser and has been using the desktop version since version 0.x many years ago. One of its major attractions has been its emphasis on security and privacy.

    Until recently it was also the default browser on my smartphone, until I discovered Firefox Focus. Firefox Focus is a free and open-source privacy-focused mobile browser based on Firefox which is available for Android and iOS devices. First released in December 2015, it was initially a tracker-blocking application for mobile iOS devices, but was developed into a minimalistic web browser shortly afterwards.

    Firefox Focus iconAccording to Mozilla, Firefox Focus is a dedicated privacy browser with automatic tracking protection. meaning web pages load faster and your data stays private. It’s also easy to delete history, passwords and cookies, so advertisers and other ne’er-do-wells don’t follow you around online. Just tap the erase button on the search field and all that data is gone. Tracking protection is also very strong. The browser blocks a wide range of common trackers by default, including social trackers and those sticky ones that come from things like Facebook ads.

    After using Firefox Focus for one week, I can say I’m impressed with the way it works. Although it required me to learn how to use tabbed browsing (hint: hold down a link in your search results and a menu appears, offering the option to open the link in a new tab. Ed.), once that was cracked, I was away. As for fast page loading, that’s not disappointing either, even on notoriously slow-loading sites, like that of Bristol City Council, which still seems to be powered by a horse turning a shaft in the basement of the Counts Louse (which some call City Hall. Ed.). 😉

    If you value your privacy and security, I’d recommend Firefox Focus on your mobile device.

  • French Customs censured for illegal retention of personal data

    CNIL logoFrench IT news site Le Monde Informatique reports that the French Customs authorities have been sent a formal notice by the CNIL, France’s data privacy regulator, in respect of an illegal data file containing the details of more than 45,000 people, including copies of identity documents and records of criminal offences.

    French Customs logoBusinesses are not the only organisations with which the CNIL has found fault for holding illegal files containing personal data. Public sector organisations can also fall foul of the law.

    The French Customs authorities, which come under the control of the Ministry for the Economy have been caught red-handed following a report in respect of Customs’ file used for recording information about vessels and their crews which is known as SIRENE. Intended to identify all the people checked at sea or in port in order to combat fraud, this system was in fact developed and implemented with no legal basis and not in accordance with the law, according to the CNIL

    Checks were carried out by Customs’ Channel-North Sea-Atlantic coastguard service and inspections revealed that recourse to this system did not comply with France’s Data Protection Act. This data system actually lists information about the vessels checked and their passengers, including personal information such as marital status, address, occupation and copies of identity documents, as well as criminal convictions (drug trafficking, counterfeiting, off-the-books employment, failure to co-operate, sexual assault, possession of illegal weapons, intentional homicide and murder).

    6 months to comply or be fined

    All told, the details of 45,793 persons – including 392 minors – are included in the SIRENE file. “The creation and use of the SIRENE file are not provided for by any legislation (for example a law or a decree). In addition, the CNIL has not received a request for an opinion concerning its implementation, in violation of the Data Protection Act (articles 87 and 89, the CNIL explained. Other grievances have also been lodged against the Ministry for the Economy, such as the failure to send an impact assessment in respect of the protection of personal data and the lack of a clear distinction between the data of the different categories of persons concerned. or the fact that the latter were not made aware that their data had been included.

    Following the CNIL’s formal notice, the Ministry for the Economy and Customs have 6 months to comply otherwise a penalty could be issued.

  • Czech government using open source web analytics

    Czechia coat of armsJoinup, the EU’s open source news site, reports that the Czech Republic is to begin using the Matomo open source web analytics tool on the Czech citizen portal and websites, where it will replace Google Analytics.

    This change will ensure that the data by the sites collected will stay within the EU and, as the Czech administration will be using its own instance of Matomo, it will retain full control of the records.

    The change was triggered by an open letter sent by the Czech the digital freedom watchdog luridicum Remedium after it noticed the Czech state vaccination system website was using Google Analytics during the COVID-19 crisis. The Czech Data Protection Authority and public sector strategic partner NAKIT then pursued the matter and replaced Google Analytics with Matomo on Czechia’s Ministry of Health website. This move later led to further action and the country will continue following this trend on public sector websites.

    Previously named Piwik, Matomo has been in development since 2007 and is presently deployed on 1.4 million websites, including those of NASA, the European Commission, the United Nations and Amnesty International.

    The Czech decision to choose Matomo follows those of other European countries seeking to keep control of their citizens’ data. Last year the French and Austrian data protection authorities determined that Google Analytics was not compliant with EU data privacy standards, in particular because Google’s data transfers to the United States are contrary to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

  • Content liability: Big Tech squares up to Uncle Sam

    US Supreme Court sealFollowing the announcement anti-trust action by the United States Department of Justice along with the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia against Google, Meta (owners of Facebook and Instagram), Microsoft and Twitter have all made statements seeking to defend their actions.

    In their legal opinions, the big US tech giants, including Microsoft, Meta and Twitter, are warning the Supreme Court against amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). This would enable actions against content recommendation algorithms, French IT news site Le Monde Informatique reports.

    One week after Google’s filing of a defence statement with the US Supreme Court warning that amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) “would upend the internet“, several companies including Twitter, Meta and Microsoft, have filed their own legal opinions. They support Google’s argument that a restriction of the law could have disastrous consequences for the content editors. By virtue of the 1996 CDA, the companies are shielded from liability for content posted by their users, including comments, criticism and advertising.

    US Supreme Court west facade
    US Supreme Court.
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and UpstateNYer

    However, the Supreme Court has been asked to examine whether Section 230 was still pertinent and appropriate, given that it was promulgated before the internet became part of everyday life. The law was subject to a minute before the suit filed by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23 year-pld US citizen killed in Paris during the 13th November 2015 terrorist attacks claimed by ISIS. The Gonzalez family asserts that the algorithms should be regarded as editorial content not covered by the immunity from liability granted by Section 230 and thus Google’s YouTube subsidiary has violated the US Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) when its algorithms have recommended ISIS-linked content to users. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in the case on 21st February next.

    Criticisms of the protections of Section 230 for websites

    Both Democratic and Republican members of Congress have criticised the protections provided for by the law. The Republicans believe that those in respect of liability make websites take partial decisions regarding content removal, whilst the Democrats would like the same sites to take more responsibility as regards moderation. In a statement President Biden has stated that his administration would support the position that Section 230 protections should not apply to recommendation algorithms. In its petition of 19th January, Microsoft asserts that if the Supreme Court makes amendments to Section 230, it would “strip these digital publishing decisions suit—and it would do so in illogical ways that are inconsistent with how algorithms actually work.“.

    The company added that any decision aimed at restricting the law “thereby expose interactive computer services to liability for publishing content to users whenever a plaintiff could craft a theory that sharing the content is somehow harmful“. In its own petition Meta stated that the plaintiffs’ argument is “deeply flawed from a legal point of view”; by interpreting Section 230 as a means of protecting sites from liability for content posted by its users whilst removing protection from content “ignores the way in which the internet works“. The company continued by describing the plaintiffs’ position as “regrettable from a practical point of view” and by stating that a ruling in their favour would ultimately prompt “online services to remove important, provocative and controversial content on matters of general interest“.

    Protection from liability essential for website operation according to Twitter

    Twitter has said that the current interpretation of Section 230 “ensures that sites such as Twitter and YouTube can work in spite of the unfathomable amount of information they make available and the potential liability that might result from this“. Since Twitter’s acquisition by Elon Musk, the site has been criticised for having reinstated the accounts of people it previously banned, such as disgraced former president Donald Trump or alpha male par excellence and all-round amateur human being Andrew Tate who is currently under investigation in Romania for alleged human trafficking.

    However, the review of several other high-profile cases will have to take place before the law is changed. Last week the Supreme Court was set to discuss its jurisdiction in two cases that challenge Texas and Florida laws prohibiting online platforms from removing certain political content. In addition, a Twitter vs. Taamneh case, which has many similarities with the Gonzalez vs. Google case, is due to oral pleadings on 2nd February. In this case Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are accused of having aided and abetted another attack claimed by Islamic State.

  • Another data protection fine for Meta

    New logo as Facebook morphs into MetaAfter a record fine of €390 mn. at the start of January, the Irish Data Protection Commission is imposing a further fine of €5.5 mn. on Meta, this time for WhatsApp’s policy with regard to personal data under the GDPR, Le Monde Informatique reports.

    Has been welcoming (in tax terms) to American IT companies, but is proving to be as very sensitive area for implementation of the GDPR. Meta has just experienced this once again with a fine of €5,5 mn. imposed by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner. This is the social network’s second fine in less than a month; on 4 January the same commission announced a record fine of €390 mn. on the personal data processing policy of Facebook and Instagram (posts passim).

    In this instance it’s WhatsApp’s policy that is being censured following a complaint filed on 25 May 2018 – the date the GDPR entered into effect – by a German user. After this date the messaging service updated its general conditions of use and informed its users they had to click on “accept and continue” to indicate their consent. If they did not reply, they no longer had access to the service.As in the decision of 4th January, WhatsApp regards its data processing policy must be considered like a “contract” according to the GDPR (Article 6.1) concluded between the company and the user.

    EDPB lays it on thick

    The Irish Data Protection Commission investigated and drew up a draft decision which was submitted to the European regulators parties involved in this case. It proposed not imposing additional financial penalties. WhatsApp had already been fined €225 mn. in September 2021 for similar actions. However, the DPC pleaded for recognition of the contractual and thus legal nature of WhatsApp’s personal data policy – a position which caused an outcry from other data protection regulators.

    The DPC approached the EDPB for a decision. It dismissed the legal basis of the contract and added an additional infringement of the transparency obligation. As a consequence, the Irish DPC is adding €5.5 mn. to the fine imposed on Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company.

  • GDPR"> Meta falls foul of GDPR

    Meta logoLe Monde Informatique reports that Meta, the conglomerate that owns both Facebook and Instagram, has been fined a total of €390 for breaches of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in respect of both platforms’ personal data processing policy.

    It has been a bad start to the year for Meta which has just been notified of a fine of €390 mn. by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). The regulator is penalising the actions of Meta’s 2 subsidiaries, Facebook to the tune of €210 mn. and Instagram €180 mn. This decision concludes a case which started on 25 May 2018 (the date the GDPR entered into effect after 2 complaints had been filed – one by well-known Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems and the other by a Belgian citizen.

    In this case Meta Ireland changed its general terms and conditions before the date of entry into effect of the GDPR, in particular “the legal basis on which it relied to legitimise its processing of users’ personal data (including behavioural advertising)”. To adopt this new policy, existing and recent Facebook and Instagram users were asked to click on the “I Accept” button on pain of no longer being able to access the platforms’ services. The questions then arose as to whether users had been forced to give their consent and if the “contract” concluded between Meta and its users conformed to Article 6 of the GDPR.

    A fine increased by the EDPB

    The debate was long and heated, including at European regulator level. As a matter of fact, the Irish DPC’s analysis did not meet with agreement from other European data protection authorities. For example, it considered the aspect of “forced consent” could not be upheld. Many authorities likewise thought the original Irish financial penalties too lenient. The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) was contacted to settle the matter and gave its decision on 5th December. It judged that “Meta Ireland was not entitled to invoke the legal basis of the “contract” as a legal based for its personal data processing for behavioural advertising purposes”.

    It also demanded the fines proposed by the Irish regulator be raised. This is the second fine imposed on Meta in recent months by the CPD. Last November the American company was fined €275 mn. for so-called data scraping. In both cases, Meta still has the possibility of challenging the regulator’s decisions before the European judicial authorities.

    Facebook and Instagram have now been given three months to bring their terms and conditions into line with the GDPR.

  • Germany – photographing illegal parking is lawful

    German newspaper <a href="".Die Welt states that it’s so obvious: people wanting to report an illegal parker just pull out their smartphone and then send the picture to the police. However, two men in Bavariahad trouble with the state’s data protection authorities. A court has now decided who acted corrected.

    A Ferrari parked on the footway being booked in Munich. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    A Ferrari parked on the footway being booked in Munich.
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Anyone who sends photos of illegal parkers as part of a report to the police does not normally violate data protection legislation. This emerged on Thursday from two landmark rulings published by the Ansbach Administrative Court. With these the court agreed with two men who corroborated their reports of parking infringements on footways and cycleways with photos. For using this they received a warning and a fine of €100 each from the Bavarian State Data Protection Office (LDA). Both objected and went to court with the support of Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V. (DUH)

    The administrative court combined the two procedures in a joint hearing because of the identical questions and ultimately ruled that the procedure involved lawful data processing. However, the actual statement of is not available. The verdicts are of fundamental significance from the legal point of view, but are still not absolute.

    The DUH, which supported one of the two plaintiffs in a test case, welcomed the verdict. “Illegal parking is no trivial offence, but endangers people who are travelling by bike, wheeled walking frame, wheelchair or pram”, commented Jürgen Resch, its Federal director. “The authorities should not take action against civil society commitment, but rather take consistent measures against blocked footpaths and cycle paths, illegal parking in front of dropped kerbs or at junctions; and do so not just in Bavaria, but nationwide.»

    The crux of the proceedings was the question of whether digital transmission of the photos constituted lawful data processing within the meaning of the General Data Protection Regulation since there must be a legitimate interest in forwarding the image files. On the other hand, data transmission and processing must be necessary.

    Accordingly, the parties to the proceedings before the court argued about whether the plaintiffs had to be personally affected by the parking violations and whether a written or telephone description of the facts including the vehicle registration number, was not sufficient. In addition, the LDA pointed out that other data such as other cars with registration plates and people can often be seen in the pictures. In reply, the plaintiffs stressed that the police had asked them to document the parking situation as accurately as possible with photos as evidence.

    The LDA stated that once the judgment’s statement of grounds was available, it would examine whether the decision was an individual case or whether a reassessment of the use of photos in public places that was critical for data protection had been initiated. In addition, it wants to agree clear and uniform guidelines with the police regarding which information is required when reporting illegal parking and which communication channel should be used.

  • Chrome’s incognito mode is anything but – allegedly

    Google Chrome iconGoogle Chrome is a cross-platform web browser first introduced in 2008. Based largely on the open source Chromium browser, perhaps the best description for it is proprietary freeware.

    French IT news website Le Monde Informatique reports that a federal judge in California is examining complaints against Google alleging that the company is tricking users into believing that their private life is protected when using the browser’s incognito mode. The lawsuit which was initiated before the North California District Court more than 2 years ago by 5 users is now awaiting a more recent petition from these plaintiff in a class action. One of the complaints concerns Chrome users with a Google account who accessed a non-Google website containing Google tracking or advertising code and who were browsing in incognito mode; a second covers all users of Safari, Edge and Internet Explorer with a Google account who accessed a non-Google website containing Google tracking or advertising code in private browsing mode. According to legal documents first disclosed by Bloomberg, Google employees joked about the browser’s incognito mode and the fact that it was not really private. They also took the company to task for not having done more to provide users with the privacy they though they were enjoying.

    Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who presides over the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, will decide whether the tens of thousands of users of Chrome’s incognito mode can be grouped together to seek statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 per violation, which could potentially increase the fine to over $5 bn. The definition of the word incognito is to disguise or conceal one’s identity. The confidentiality settings of web browsers are intended to delete local traces of sites visited by a user, as well as web searches and information provided when filling in online forms. Simply put, private modes such as incognito are not supposed to track and record data from web searches and sites visited by users. Google is also facing proceedings linked to user confidentiality from the justice ministers and public prosecutors of several federal states including Texas, the District of Columbia and Washington. Earlier this month Google settled a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Arizona for $85 mn. Initially filed in June 2020, the class action was asking for at least $5 bn., accusing Google of surreptitiously collecting data on what people were viewing online and where they were browsing despite using private browsing mode. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they have a large number of internal Google emails proving that managers have known for years that private browsing mode does not do what it claims. When a user chooses to use this incognito mode, Google’s browser is supposed to delete browsing history and cookies automatically at the end of a session.

    Data sold for advertising purposes in auctions

    The plaintiffs, who are Google Account holders, alleged that the search engine collected their data, distributed it and sold it for targeted advertising through a real-time auction system (RTB). LThe plaintiffs allege that even in incognito mode, Google can see what sites Chrome users are visiting and collect data by means which include Analytics, digital fingerprinting techniques, concurrent applications and processes on a user’s device and AdManager. The latter is a Google service enabling businesses to distribute and create web, mobile and video advertising reports for a company.

    According to one report, more than 70% of all website use one of more of Google’s services. More specifically, the plaintiffs allege that every time a user with private browsing mode active visits a website running Analytics or AdManager, the search giant’s software scripts on the site surreptitiously order the user’s browser to send a secret separate message to its servers in California. “Google learns exactly what content the user’s browser software was asking the website to display, and it also passes a header containing the URL information of what the user viewed and requested online. Device IP address, geolocation data and user ID are all tracked and logged by Google”, according to one report in the lawsuit. “Once collected, this mountain of data is analyzed to build digital records on millions of consumers, in some cases identifying us by name, gender, age, and medical conditions and political issues we researched online”, the lawsuit claims.

    Truly private browsing results in loss of revenue

    In March 2021, a California judge denied 82 motions by Google’s attorneys to end the lawsuit and ruled against the company, allowing it to proceed. In July that year the company was sentenced to pay almost one million dollars in legal fees and expenses as a penalty for not having disclosed evidence concerning the lawsuit in a timely manner.

    This week a spokesperson for Google told the Washington Post it had been frank with users about what its incognito mode offers in terms of privacy and that the plaintiffs “deliberately misrepresented our statements”. Jack Gold, senior analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the company makes the majority of its revenue by tracking everyone and selling ad space. “If they’re really creating a completely private browsing experience, then the revenue stream is gone,” he said. “So, I suspect there is a ‘balancing act’ going on internally as to where the borders are around privacy vs. tracking. No company builds a free browser without being able to generate revenues somehow”. The plaintiffs in the case said they chose “private browsing mode” to prevent others from learning what they’re viewing on the internet. When it comes to using Google Chrome and other browsers, “let the user beware,” Gold said. “You have to trust the maker to take care of your privacy, but it’s not always in their best interest to do so”.

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