Facebook takes advantage of Brexit to move all UK users onto US privacy agreements – which offer fewer protections and increase the risk of surveillance
- UK Facebook customers will be moved over to US-based user agreements
- This will happen next year after Brexit and will see UK users lose protections
- EU’s digital privacy laws are far stricter than those in the US and experts expect the UK to have a looser regime following Brexit
Facebook has confirmed plans to move all its UK customers into US user agreements with the corporate headquarters in California after Brexit.
The change will come into force next year and follows a similar move announced in February by Google.
The two tech giants both currently have European head offices in Dublin, but Brexit will change the UK’s legal relationship with Ireland, which remains in the Union.
The EU’s digital privacy laws are far stricter than those in the US, and experts warn that the move could expose users to surveillance by US intelligence agencies or data requests from law enforcement.
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The change will come into force next year and follows a similar move announced in February by Google. The two tech giants both currently have European head offices in Dublin but Brexit will change the UK’s legal relationship with Ireland (file photo)
Initially, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters about the move. Facebook later confirmed it.
‘Like other companies, Facebook has had to make changes to respond to Brexit and will be transferring legal responsibilities and obligations for UK users from Facebook Ireland to Facebook,’ the company’s UK arm said.
‘There will be no change to the privacy controls or the services Facebook offers to people in the UK.’
Facebook’s UK users will remain subject to UK privacy law, which for now tracks the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Facebook is making the change partly because the EU privacy regime is among the world’s strictest, according to people familiar with the company. The EU rules give users granular control over the use of their personal data.
The US Cloud Act, passed in 2018, set a way for the UK and United States to more easily exchange data about cloud computing users.
Privacy advocates fear the UK may move to an looser data privacy regime following Brexit, especially as it pursues a trade deal with the US, which offers far fewer protections.
Some also worry that UK Facebook users could more easily be subject to surveillance by US intelligence agencies or data requests from law enforcement.
Facebook will shift all its users in the UK into user agreements with the corporate headquarters in California, moving them out of their current relationship with Facebook’s Irish unit (file photo)
‘The bigger the company, the more personal data they hold, the more they are likely to be subject to surveillance duties or requirements to hand over data to the US government,’ said Jim Killock, executive director of the UK-based non-profit Open Rights Group.
US courts have held that constitutional protections against unreasonable searches do not apply to non-citizens overseas.
UK information industry regulators said they had been in touch with Facebook along with companies keeping European headquarters as Brexit nears.
‘We are aware of Facebook’s plans and will continue to engage with the company in the new year,’ said a spokeswoman at the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Facebook will inform its users of the shift in the next six months, a spokesman said, giving them the option to stop using the world’s largest social network and its Instagram and WhatsApp services.
Facebook’s decision comes at a time when the UK is escalating efforts to ban strong encryption, which Facebook is moving to implement on all its products.
The UK, like the European Union, is also pressuring Facebook on a number of other fronts, including hate speech and terrorism policies.
The United States may also pursue new laws on privacy and social media content, and federal and state prosecutors recently launched antitrust lawsuits against both Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google.
Still, tech lobbyists expect that US tech regulations will remain more industry-friendly than those in the UK.
How century-old antitrust laws could break up Facebook
The lawsuit filed by 46 attorneys general is based on two century-old antitrust laws which were seen as hallmarks of the Progressive Era and once used to break up oil and railroad monopolies.
The Sherman Act of 1890 was used by President Theodore Roosevelt in his ‘trust-busting’ drive in the early 20th century, while the Clayton Act of 1914 strengthened the anti-monopoly laws.
Standard Oil, the American Tobacco Company and the Northern Securities railroad company were among the companies broken up by federal action in those years.
Today, the laws are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, while state attorneys general can also bring lawsuits under the federal laws.
In some investigations, a ‘state attorney general may cooperate with federal authorities’, the FTC says.
In 1998, the federal government sued Microsoft under the antitrust laws, a case which ended in a settlement.
The new case filed by the 46 states accuses Facebook of ‘unlawful monopoly maintenance’ in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.
This makes it illegal to ‘monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations’.
The legal filing also alleges that the purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram are unlawful under Section 7 of the Clayton Act.
This prohibits mergers and acquisitions where the effect ‘may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly’.
The Facebook filing filing calls for the ‘divestiture’ of what it calls ‘illegally acquired businesses’ from the social media giant.
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