Germany Raises Pressure on Facebook on Data Privacy Rules

(Bloomberg) -- The German government and lawmakers in the lower house of parliament are ratcheting up the pressure on Facebook Inc. to guarantee privacy following reports that an election consulting firm siphoned data from tens of millions of the social network’s users.

Justice and Consumer Protection Minister Katarina Barley summoned Facebook officials to a meeting on Monday in Berlin, ministry spokeswoman Josephine Steffen said at a regular news conference. The gathering will be attended by officials including Richard Allen, Facebook vice president of policy for the EMEA region.

“We will talk to the representatives of Facebook, we will also ask if German users are affected, how this came about and what Facebook intends to do in the future so that it won’t happen again,” Steffen said.

The company has come under sustained criticism following reports that Cambridge Analytica used data to help build an election-consulting company and bragged it could influence votes around the world. Some 270,000 users authorized an academic to use their information for research purposes, but the researcher allegedly violated privacy rules when he handed the data off to the advertising firm, the reports said.

Barley has said that Facebook users must know exactly what happens to their personal information before allowing it to be harvested. Fines of as much as 4 percent of global annual sales can be levied from May under a European data protection law, she added.

Unanswered Questions

Stephan Harbarth, a deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc in parliament, said the government will consider legal action to force social network operators to better protect privacy.

Merkel’s CDU will invite Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to speak to the Bundestag’s committee on the digital agenda, which deals with internet policy issues, Handelsblatt newspaper reported, citing Thomas Jarzombek, a committee member.

Facebook officials were invited to a special meeting of the committee on Friday, but “most of the questions remain unanswered,” Jarzombek said in an emailed statement. “I would have liked more clarification.”

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