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Germany demands answers from Facebook over data breach

March 22, 2018

Justice Minister Katarina Barley said the Cambridge Analytica scandal bombarded users with hate speech. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been called to answer questions in the UK's criminal probe into the data breach.

Mark Zuckerberg
Image: Reuters/S. Lam

Germany's Justice Minister Katarina Barley said on Thursday that she was seeking a meeting with Facebook's EU management, saying they had questions to answer about the revelations that a private company was able to harvest the data of millions of users. This data was then allegedly sold to political actors seeking to exploit users' weaknesses with targeted political ads.

Read more: Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal: What you need to know

People were "against their will forced to interact…with hate speech," Barley told newspaper publisher Funke Mediengruppe.

She called such methods "a threat to democracy," adding that Facebook's European management owed the German government some answers.

Later, Barley said that she had requested an official meeting with the social media giant's European leadership team next week. "We have to determine how far we have to change the rules," Barley said, adding that users need to be made more aware of where their data is going and have clearer choices for data protection.

Barley said she would demand the company offer concrete solutions on data security.

Over the weekend, a whistleblower revealed that London-based data research firm Cambridge Analytica, a subsidiary of the government contractor SCL Group, had used a personality test set up by a psychology lecturer to gather data from 270,000 users. They were also able to gather data from these users' friends, eventually getting information from 50 million people.

'We built models to exploit inner demons'

Founded in 2013 by the archconservative Robert Mercer with input from Steve Bannon, who later became adviser to US President Donald Trump, the firm was ostensibly set up to support conservative political causes – though the White House has denied using Cambridge Analytica data for the 2016 election campaign.

Co-founder Christopher Wylie, who left the company in 2014, told Britain's Observer newspaper: "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons."

The scandal took on a wider scope when footage emerged of now-suspended CEO Alexander Nix implying to a reporter posing as a Sri Lankan politician that he could use bribery and blackmail to sway an election.

Zuckerberg has also come under fire from UK and EU officials. Britain's Information Commissioner's Office has asked the Facebook CEO to come give evidence in its criminal investigation into Cambridge Analytica, and EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova warned on a trip to Washington that Facebook's security breach was undermining democracy.

After several days of silence following Sunday's revelations, Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that Facebook would "step up" measures to protect user data.

"The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago," Zuckerberg said in a statement. "But we also made mistakes, there's more to do, and we need to step up and do it."

es/ng (AFP, dpa)

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