Fool me once: Aussie regulator demands answers from Facebook on crypto data privacy

Facebook Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg. Source: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has joined forces with international data protection and privacy regulators to demand answers from Facebook about how it plans to run its Libra cryptocurrency network, and whether it will be doing so responsibly.

With a 2020 launch target, Libra is Facebook’s cryptocurrency project, intended to provide a stable, global blockchain-based currency, backed by the independent Libra Association.

However, a joint statement from the regulatory bodies, including representatives from the US, the UK, the EU, Canada, Burkina Faso and Albania, casts suspicion on the whole thing.

And, given Facebook’s historically laissez-faire approach to user data, the scrutiny — while arguably a little late — is fair enough.

In the statement, the group of regulators demand answers to a series of questions, including how authorities will be able to have confidence in the new platform, and that proper data protection measures are in place. The group also asked how these protections will apply across jurisdictions.

The statement asks how the platform will incorporate privacy by design, how it will ensure processors of data can be identified, and where data will be shared between Libra members.

It takes something of a dig at Facebook’s historical data lapses, saying the tech giant’s track record of data collection on millions of its users raises additional concerns.

“Many of us in the regulatory community have had to address previous episodes where Facebook’s handling of people’s information has not met the expectations of regulators, or their own users,” the statement says.

“Because of this, we are sharing our expectations of the Libra Association … in protecting the personal information it will handle.”

In the past, while Facebook has been prone to broad statements about privacy, it has generally failed to detail the data-handling practices it uses, or how it protects users’ personal information.

“Additionally, given the current plans for a rapid implementation of Libra and Calibra, we are surprised and concerned that this further detail is not yet available,” the statement says.

Libra’s very association with Facebook is a cause for concern, the statement says. Facebook’s involvement means the cryptocurrency platform has the potential to see swift, significant uptake on a global scale, including in countries that don’t have data protection laws in place.

Libra “may instantly become the custodian of millions of people’s personal information,” the statement warns.

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