By Barry Ellsworth,
Trenton, Canada: Canadian politicians grilled Facebook executives Thursday as to why they did not tell more than 600,000 Canadians their privacy may have been breached.
The response from the senior Facebook leadership team was an apology.
“What is alleged to have occurred is a huge breach of trust to our users, and for that we are sorry,” said Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook in Canada.
The House of Commons committee asked Facebook privacy officer Robert Sherman why, when the company learned of the breaches in 2016, Canadians were not told.
“In retrospect, we should have done that,” Sherman replied.
The irony is that it was a Canadian, Christopher Wylie, who blew the whistle on breaches of privacy that affected more than 80 million Facebook users worldwide. The data was gathered by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, that sold the information from profiles that showed what pages users liked, birth dates, religious beliefs and more.
The Facebook executives admitted Thursday that the data may have been used by Cambridge Analytica to aid the Leave side of the UK Brexit vote and for the U.S. presidential campaign of Donald Trump. The firm worked for both.
The executives were asked if Facebook would voluntarily adopt better security and disclosures of future breaches similar to the principles about to be enacted by the European Union.
At this point, they demurred a direct answer and said the company is now working with the Canadian privacy commissioner to develop some regulations.
But Facebook officials recently posed a thinly veiled threat to Canadian politicians that a move where the country adopted rigid regulations might see the company cut investments in Canada. Facebook has planned a CAN$7 million investment in an artificial intelligence (AI) research hub in Montreal.
“We were told, almost in passing, that any new Canadian regulations might well put at risk Facebook investments in Canada,” Peter Kent, Conservative Party Member of Parliament, said to the executives. “I’m wondering if that same caution would still be made?”
Chan said no.
“That is not our view. That is not the representation we would have made,” he said. “In fact, we’re quite proud to be supporters of AI in Canada.”
What will result from Thursday’s political grilling is yet to be determined.