Facebook to launch privacy center ahead of EU regulations

A new AI tool created to help identify certain kinds of substance abuse based on a homeless youth's Facebook posts could provide homeless shelters with vital information to incorporate into each individual's case management plan. Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Facebook says it will launch a new privacy center to help people understand what it does with their data as the giant social network prepares for sweeping new data protection rules in Europe designed to rein in the growing power of major U.S. technology companies.

All settings will be in one place, said Facebook, which also published a set of privacy "principles."

Facebook is bracing for new regulations designed to help the 500 million consumers in Europe take back some control over how online businesses use their personal information.

But Facebook won't be giving its more than 2 billion users any additional say over what it does with the mountains of Facebook collects to target advertising.

Instead Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said last week in a speech in Brussels that the new privacy center would "put the core for Facebook in one place, and make it much easier for people to manage their data."

According to Sandberg, the changes give Facebook "a very good foundation to meet all the requirements" of the 28-member bloc's new data rules called the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, which apply to any company that keeps data on EU citizens. The GDPR restricts what kind of data companies can use and store and what they can do with the data.

Set to take effect May 25, the regulations are so stringent that some have warned that U.S. tech companies may have to dramatically alter how they operate or risk fines of 20 million euros, more than $24 million, or 4% of their annual revenue, whichever is greater, if they violate the rules.

Facebook, like other major U.S. tech companies, has deployed dozens of people and spent millions of dollars to figure out how to comply with the new rules. In recent months, the company has held what it calls "design jams" where staffers brainstorm ways people can get a clearer picture of what's happening to their data.

"The is about to find itself scrutinized in Europe and forced to give the public more control over their data," privacy expert Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said of Facebook.

The new regulations were approved in 2015 after tech companies ran afoul of privacy regulators in individual European countries. They are the latest European headache for Facebook and other technology companies that have for years been taking flak from regulators and lawmakers over taxes, privacy, collection and use of data and terrorist content.

"Facebook is under the gun in the EU," said Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Literally multiple investigations and court cases right now. And the pace will pick up in May when GDPR goes into force."

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