Personal data: EU official wants action against internet companies

Personal data: EU official wants action against internet companies

European Union official has called for action against internet companies that harvest personal data, as Brussels prepares to move against those spreading “fake news” following the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

Sir Julian King, the European commissioner for security, wants “a clear game plan” on how social media companies are allowed to operate during political campaigns to be ready for the 2019 European elections.

The European commission’s digital strategy, to be outlined this month, has been given new impetus by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which whistleblowers revealed that the data of 50 million Facebook users ended up in the hands of political consultancies for use in Donald Trump’s US election campaign and the UK’s EU referendum.

In a letter seen by the Financial Times, King wrote that the “psychometric targeting activities” such as those of the data analysis company are just a “preview of the profoundly disturbing effects such disinformation could have on the functioning of liberal democracies”.

King, the UK’s final European commissioner, is calling for limits on the harvesting of personal information for political purposes, more transparency on the internal algorithms that internet platforms use to promote stories, as well as disclosure by technology companies of who funds sponsored content on their websites.

His ideas are set out in a letter to Mariya Gabriel, the digital economy commissioner, who is leading the EU’s response to fake news.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has already promised a law to ban fake news during election campaigns.

On Monday, Malaysia became one of the first countries in the world to introduce such a law, despite being urged by the UN not to rush the measures. Under the legislation, offenders could be sentenced to up to six years in prison. It has prompted fears of a clampdown on free speech before a general election.

King has previously called on the EU to redouble its efforts to debunk “pro-Kremlin disinformation”, and cited the work of the EU’s counter-propaganda unit.