Days before Italy’s general election, the country’s privacy watchdog sent Facebook’s parent (Meta) an urgent request for information, asking the social media giant to clarify what steps it is taking around Sunday’s elections.
The risk of election interference via social media continues to be a major concern for regulators after years of growing awareness of how misinformation is seeded, disseminated and amplified on algorithmic platforms like Facebook, and processes organizations that continue to be seen as prime targets for malicious influence operations. .
European Union privacy regulators also monitor how platforms handle personal data – with data protection laws in place that regulate the handling of sensitive data such as political opinions.
In a press release regarding his request yesterday, the Guarantee recalls a previous $1.1 million fine he imposed on Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica scandal and for Facebook’s “Candidates” project for the 2018 Italian general election, writing [in Italian; translated here using machine translation] that it is “necessary to pay particular attention to the processing of data likely to reveal the political opinions of the interested parties and to respect the free expression of thought”.
“Facebook should provide timely information on the initiative undertaken; on the nature and manner of data processing on any agreement to send reminders and publish “sticker” information (also published on Instagram — part of the Meta Group); on the measures taken to ensure, as announced, that the initiative is only brought to the attention of adults, ”adds the gendarme.
The move follows what it describes as an “information campaign” by Meta, aimed at Italian users, which would aim to counter interference and remove content that discourages voting – and involving the use of a virtual operations center to identify potential threats in real time. -time, as well as working with independent fact-checking organizations.
The Guarantee says that the existence of this campaign was made public by Meta editions”Memory “ (memos). However, a page on Meta’s website that outlines information about its preparations for the upcoming elections currently only offers downloadable documents detailing its approach to the US midterm elections and to the elections in Brazil. There’s no information here about Meta’s approach to the general election in Italy – nor any information about the information campaign he is (apparently) running locally.
A separate page on Meta’s website – titled “election integrity” – includes a number of additional articles on its preparations for elections elsewhere, including the 2022 general elections in Kenya; the 2022 general elections in the Philippines; and for the 2021 general elections in Ethiopia. Plus previous articles on state elections in India; and an update on Georgia’s run-off election starting in late 2020, among others.
But, again, Meta does not appear to have provided any information here about its preparations for the Italian general elections.
The reason for this omission – which is presumably what it is – could be linked to the fact that the Italian elections are early elections, triggered by a government crisis and the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi. that is, rather than a long-scheduled general election. .
However, the discrepancy in Meta’s Election Integrity Information Center about the steps it is taking to protect the Italian general election from misinformation suggests there are limits to its transparency in this crucial area – suggesting that it is unable to provide consistent transparency in response to what can often dynamically change democratic calendars.
Italy’s parliament was dissolved on July 21, when the president called for new elections. Which means Meta, a company with a market capitalization of hundreds of billions of dollars, has had two months to upload details of the election integrity measures it takes around the country to the relevant hubs on its website – but he doesn’t seem to have done so.
We contacted Meta yesterday with questions about what it is doing in Italy to protect the election from interference, but at the time of writing the company had not responded.
He will of course have to respond to the request for information from the Italian supervisory authority. We contacted the regulator with questions.
The Guarantee continues to be an active privacy watchdog in the surveillance of tech giants operating in its territory, although it is not the main supervisor of these companies under the Single Window Mechanism (OSS) of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has otherwise led to bottlenecks around the application of GDPR. But the regulation provides some leeway for the DPAs concerned to act on urgent matters on their own territory without having to submit to the OSS.
So, a full answer to the question of whether GDPR is working to regulate Big Tech requires a broader view than just totaling fines or even fixing final GDPR enforcement decisions.