The EU said reports that a firm hired by the Trump election campaign harvested the Facebook data of millions of users is “horrifying” and Europe must do everything to protect its own citizens.
EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said she would seek clarification from Facebook about the reports by the New York Times and The Observer when she visits the United States this week.
Cambridge Analytica, the data analysis firm hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, stole information from 50 million Facebook users’ profiles to help design software to predict and influence voters’ choices, according to the news reports.
“Horrifying, if confirmed,” Jourova, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, tweeted before travelling to the United States on Monday.
Her shock was over how the personal data of 50 million Facebook users “could be so easily mishandled and used for political purpose!,” Jourova said.
“We don’t want this in the EU and will take all possible legal measures including the stricter data protection rules and stronger enforcement granted by #GDPR,” she said.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into force on May 25 in a bid to protect users’ online privacy.
“I expect the companies to take more responsibility when handling our personal data,” she said.
Jourova said during her US visit she will seek “further clarifications” from Facebook on the problem.
During her nearly four years as commissioner, Jourova has held frequent talks with Facebook and other US tech giants in a bid to bolster Europeans personal data protections and rid the internet of hate speech.
Facebook said at the weekend it has suspended the account of Cambridge Analytica and the accounts of its parent organisation, Strategic Communication Laboratories, as well as those of University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie, a Canadian data analytics expert who worked with Kogan.
Cambridge Analytica was bankrolled to the tune of $15 million by US hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, a major Republican donor.
The Observer, based in Britain, said it was headed at the time by Steve Bannon, a top Trump adviser until he was fired last summer.
Facebook later pushed back against the claim of a data breach, issuing a fresh statement on Saturday that suggested the misused data was limited to those who voluntarily took the test.
Cambridge Analytica said it was in touch with Facebook to resolve the issue.