US tech giants risk hefty fines, Irish privacy chief warns

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 13 Jun 2019

Helen Dixon, data protection commissioner at the Irish Data Protection Commission, speaks at the Sooner Than You Think London tech conference in London, U.K., on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The two-day event features tech executives from PayPal, Slack, Mozilla, Uber, Google and others as well as officials such as Ireland’s privacy watchdog. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Facebook Inc, Google and Apple Inc are all at risk of hefty fines if the European data protection regulator probing them finds they violated European Union privacy rules. 

Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, said she has about 20 investigations open into big technology companies, including Twitter Inc and Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram platforms. 

A number of these cases are “well advanced” and could land on her desk for a decision in the next couple of weeks. That will kick-start the process toward potential fines and it will be “inevitable” for her to consider penalties “where infringements are identified”, she said. 

“It would be a most surprising outcome if, of the 20 big tech investigations we have underway, fines were not a feature of the process,” Dixon said in an interview in London, after speaking at Bloomberg’s Sooner Than You Think technology conference. 

Google has so far received the biggest penalty of €50mil (RM235.10mil) since European regulators were empowered last year by the new EU privacy rules to levy fines of as much as 4% of annual sales. In that case, French officials found two types of violations of EU law, one for lack of transparency and information, the other for not having a legal basis to process user data for personalised advertisements. 

Google scrutiny 

Dixon has about 55 investigations open, 20 of which target US tech giants that have their European base in her country. Google was added to that list last month by Dixon’s office, which will look into possible violations of how the search giant processes users’ data in advertising transactions.  

Speaking earlier June 12, Dixon said that Facebook and other tech companies will have to continue to self-regulate under the EU’s one-year-old General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. 

But self-regulation has to go hand-in-hand with supervision, she said, adding it will be a positive for regulators if global rules are more unified. 

“In term of calls for more laws like GDPR, the more convergence we have, the better for supervisory authorities like ours,” Dixon said. – Bloomberg

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