The European Union has contacted data protection authorities over the latest reports around Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data, aiming to kickstart an investigation into the two companies that could result in heavy fines.
The UK-based data analytics firm used by the 2016 Donald Trump campaign was kicked off Facebook last Friday, pre-empting an investigation by The Observer and New York Times involving whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who previously worked as a contractor for Cambridge Analytica.
Wylie claimed the company had accessed the Facebook friends data of up to 50 million people, using the data without getting their permission, in order to build models that better targeted Facebook users with political advertising.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the European Commission told BuzzFeed News that senior European officials have already contacted Facebook, branding the misuse of friends’ data unacceptable.
“From a European Union perspective, the misuse for political purposes of personal data belonging to Facebook users – if confirmed – is not acceptable,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“The Commission is already in contact with Facebook and Commissioner (Vera) Jourová will raise the issue with the company on the occasion of her visit to the US this week.”
The European Commission also said data protection authorities would be encouraged to investigate Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, leaving open the possibility of “significant fines”.
“Enforcement of EU data protection rules is the responsibility of data protection authorities,” the spokesperson said. “The Commission is in contact with them and calls on them to investigate this case.”
“As of May, companies will face significant fines everywhere in the EU if they don’t respect these rules.”
These calls come as both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica attempt to manage the fall out from the publication of the weekend investigation.
Damian Collins, chair of the UK’s Commons select committee on digital culture, media, and sport wants Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a committee inquiry, while parliament agreed to debate issues raised in the investigation on Monday afternoon.
Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have been asked to comment on the latest moves by the EU. Facebook has previously released a statement denying reports that described what Cambridge Analytica did was a “breach” of the company’s user data.
Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that Cambridge Analytica was exploring legal options in an effort to stop the airing of an undercover investigation into the data firm by the British broadcaster Channel 4 news.
According to a senior source at Channel 4, the broadcaster has every intention of airing the programme, despite legal threats.