A German privacy regulator has launched an investigation into Facebook's Cambridge Analytica data breach. The case was filed as Facebook's vice president for global policy met with lawmakers in Berlin.
Facebook's efforts to restore trust in Germany following its massive data breach hit a major snag on Friday.
The city-state of Hamburg's Data Protection Commissioner, Johannes Caspar, informed the internet giant that he had opened his own probe into alleged data abuse on the platform. If any German users' data was found to have been breached, Facebook could face a fine of up to €300,000 ($370,000).
If German user data were found to have been harvested by Cambridge Analytica, "this would be a collection without legal basis, which is unacceptable," Caspar said.
Caspar's spokesman, Martin Schemm, said that the privacy watchdog would first seek a statement from Facebook before hearings begin. Facebook's German headquarters are based in Hamburg.
Facebook has been at the center of allegations that Russia influenced the 2016 US presidential election via the platform through a barrage of fake news and misleading political ads. It then emerged last month that the personal data of some 87 million Facebook users had been harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy firm employed by Donald Trump's presidential campaign team.
Although a €300,000 fine would hardly make a dent in Facebook's coffers — the company's recorded revenue totaled over $40 billion last year — it does fire a warning shot ahead of the European Union's upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The new privacy rules could see online firms face fines of up to 4 percent of worldwide revenues for serious violations of data stored in EU.
Read more: Who needs privacy anyway?
German lawmakers unimpressed by Facebook boss' assurances
Earlier on Friday, Joel Kaplan, Facebook's vice president for global public policy, met with German lawmakers in Berlin to share how the platform intends to make political advertising more transparent ahead of October's Bavarian state election.
Kaplan told lawmakers that Facebook would allow only authorized advertisers to run electoral ads and that these would be clearly labelled.
Facebook will also roll out a new "view ads" feature, allowing users to see all the ads being run by a particular advertiser.
"We will be able to roll out the first phase of our transparency efforts — the view ads tool — this summer in time for the Bavarian state elections," Kaplan said, according to his prepared remarks.
However, lawmakers came away from the meeting dissatisfied, saying Kaplan had failed to clarify how widespread the data leak had been.
"We just experienced another slice of Facebook's salami tactics," the Christian Democrats' digital policy spokesman Thomas Jarzombek said.
Tabea Rössner of the Greens told German business daily Handelsblatt that the hearing had shown Facebook was still in "business as usual" mode. "That disrespects those affected," she said.
The "view ads" feature is already available in Canada and is slated to be rolled out in Ireland ahead of the country's abortion referendum on May 25.DW editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.
dm/msh (Reuters, dpa)