EU privacy watchdogs to look into harvesting of data from social media

FILE PHOTO: Men look at their mobile phones as they walk on the esplanade of La Defense in the financial and business district of La Defense, west of Paris, France March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union privacy watchdogs will look deeper into the harvesting of personal data from social networks for economic or political purposes following the scandal engulfing Facebook Inc. after data from nearly 87 million users was improperly accessed.

“A multi-billion dollar social media platform saying it is sorry simply is not enough,” Andrea Jelinek, chair of the group of EU data protection authorities, said in a statement on Thursday.

The world’s largest social network has been rattled by the revelation that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users ended up in the hands of British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica - which has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign among its clients.

“This is why we are creating a Social Media Working Group. What we are seeing today is most likely only one instance of the much wider spread practice of harvesting personal data from social media for economic or political reasons,” Jelinek said after a two-day meeting of the regulators.

The group must formulate a long-term strategy, the statement read, although it did not include any details on the kinds of steps it may take.

Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is leading the European probe into the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

A landmark data privacy law will enter into force in the EU on May 25, giving Europeans the right to know what data is stored on them and the right to have it deleted.

Under the new law, companies will need the explicit consent of users before using their data and they will have to be more specific about how they use it. Companies who break the law could face fines of up to 4 percent of their annual global turnover.

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Hugh Lawson