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UK data regulator raises privacy concerns over Facebook’s Libra digital currency

Written by Tue 6 Aug 2019

The ICO has signed a joint statement with other data protection authorities calling for more information about how Facebook will use financial data

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has raised privacy concerns over Facebook’s new digital currency, Libra.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has signed a statement alongside counterparts from the US, Canada, Australia and the European Union expressing “shared concerns about the privacy risks posed by the Libra digital currency and infrastructure”.

The statement calls on Facebook to provide more details on how it will protect user data.

The digital currency and its digital wallet Calibra were announced in June by a group of companies backing it, led by the social networking giant.

Privacy concerns have already been raised about Libra and Facebook’s ties to it after a number of privacy failings to hit the social network in recent years.

“The ambition and scope of the Libra project has the potential to change the online payment landscape, and to offer benefits to consumers. But that ambition must work in tandem with people’s privacy expectations and rights,” Ms Denham said.

“Facebook’s involvement is particularly significant, as there is the potential to combine Facebook’s vast reserves of personal information with financial information and cryptocurrency, amplifying privacy concerns about the network’s design and data-sharing arrangements.

“We know that the Libra Network has already opened dialogue with many financial regulators on how it intends to comply with financial services product rules. However, given the rapid plans for Libra and Calibra, we are concerned that there is little detail available about the information-handling practices that will be in place to secure and protect personal information.

“I hope this statement will prompt an open and constructive conversation to ensure that data protection is a key part of the design process and that data protection regulators are a key consultative group as the Libra proposals develop.”

The joint statement, which has also been signed by data protection authorities in Albania and Burkina Faso, calls on Facebook and the other companies in the Libra Network to address privacy concerns.

It asks the Libra Association to explain a number of mechanisms around the currency, including how personal information will be used, incorporating privacy by design into the currency’s infrastructure and how will data be shared among network members.

“As representatives of the global community of data protection and privacy enforcement authorities, collectively responsible for promoting the privacy of many millions of people around the world, we are joining together to express our shared concerns about the privacy risks posed by the Libra digital currency and infrastructure,” the joint statement said.

“Other authorities and democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns about this initiative. These risks are not limited to financial privacy since the involvement of Facebook Inc and its expansive categories of data collection on hundreds of millions of users raises additional concerns.

“Strong privacy safeguards are the foundation for innovation in the digital world. As data protection and privacy enforcement authorities we will work together to assert this at a global level, and we encourage all organisations to engage with data protection and privacy authorities when developing services with significant implications for privacy.”

The digital currency has already faced direct scrutiny in the US Congress.

Giving evidence to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee last month, Facebook’s Libra chief David Marcus said he understood “loud and clear” that people do not want financial details connected to their social media data.

However, Bank of England governor Mark Carney cautiously welcomed the digital currency, saying the Bank “approaches Libra with an open mind but not an open door”.

Written by Tue 6 Aug 2019

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