Facebook halts election reminders in the EU, in response to concerns from regulators

Facebook halts election reminders in the EU, in response to concerns from regulators
Digital sovereignty

Facebook has paused its election notification feature, after a key European privacy regulator raised privacy concerns, according to TechCrunch

The social media platform offers an “Election Day Reminder” notification designed to increase voter turnout. A study by the company in 2012 conducted with the University of California at San Diego showed the notifications brought 340,000 additional voters to the polls in the 2010 US congressional elections.

But after facing a widespread loss of public trust in recent years, the notifications are being scrutinized, both in terms of what data is collected in relation to the feature, and how it could be used to manipulate elections.

Facebook collects vast troves of data on its users, and if it chose to show the reminders only to users with certain political leanings, it could potentially manipulate the results.

A new investigation by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) is focused on Facebook’s collection of data in relation to the feature, which asks whether users have voted, as well as how that data is used to target ads, and what data is used by Facebook to determine which users will see the reminder. 

Under EU law, data on the political opinions of users falls under the designation of “special category data,” subject to special requirements for compliance on transparency and consent. 

The company says the reminders are based only on the location and age of users

The DPC said its concerns focus on Facebook’s “transparency to users about how personal data is collected when interacting with the feature and subsequently used by Facebook.”

They did not specify what data they believed Facebook could be gathering, or specific concerns over how it could be used. 

The DPC is an key regulator in Europe, since Ireland is home to the European headquarters of so many international tech firms. 

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement:

“We believe that the Election Day reminder is a positive feature which reminds people to vote and helps them find their polling place. We are committed to processing people’s information lawfully, fairly, and in a transparent manner. However, following concerns raised by the Irish data protection commission around whether we give users enough information about how the feature works, we have paused this feature in the EU for the time being. We will continue working with the DPC to address their concerns.”

The Irish DPC is also investigating Google, Apple, and Twitter for possible privacy violations. 

Photo by European Parliament from EU / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)