VULCAN VIEW: KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
FACEBOOK DATA BREACH
Further revelations show up to 87m Facebook users data hit
Facebook’s data breach continues to escalate as the company this week admitted that it believes up to 87 millions of its users may have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. These latest figures are a dramatic increase from last week’s initial revelations that up to 50 million Facebook users had their data mined from the data analytics company.
Speaking to reporters about the breach, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that if users had any information public on the site then at ‘’some point over the last several years, someone has probably accessed your public info in this way’’. Mr. Zuckerberg dismissed some calls from investors to step down as CEO or even fire staff within the company, claiming that he is the right person to lead the cleaning up operation.
The majority of affected users were in the US and the CEO has already confirmed that he would testify before the US congressional committee investigating online privacy. However, more than 1m users were in the UK. In two months’ time, far more stringent regulation of data will be introduced in the EU when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force.
This new regulation will allow Europe’s regulators to impose tough fines on companies that fail to protect the data of European citizens, involving sums of up to €20m or up to 4% of a company’s annual turnover (whichever is highest). Questions have arisen whether the GDPR would have prevented the Cambridge Analytica breach.
GDPR does not rule out ‘’data mining’’ but makes clear that a company collecting or processing personal information will have to gain clear consent for what it is doing with this information. Furthermore, the measure does not outlaw the processing of personal information for political purposes but does indicate that political parties and other types of campaign organisations can only use such information for compiling newsletters or electoral lists. Once these rules come into force on the 25th of May, companies will face an entirely new landscape of data handling.
Commission plans ‘fake news’ crackdown in wake of Facebook data breach
Brussels is considering bringing in new measures in an effort to combat the growing risk of ‘’online disinformation’’. In light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Commission has becoming increasingly anxious that the upcoming 2019 European Parliament elections will become the next victim of widespread Eurosceptic fake news.
This concern has led to Julian King, the European Commissioner for security, to write to his Commissioner counterpart, Mariya Gabriel who overseas digital economy, demanding that the EU draws up a ‘’clear game plan’’ of how social media companies operate during election periods. In the letter, Sir King calls for a ‘’more binding approach’’ with ‘’carefully defined performance indicators’’ rather than the current structure of self-regulation.
His proposals come as a number of individual EU member states are drawing up their own legislation to counter the growing online threat. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, believes he was the target of Russian-backed ‘’deceitful propaganda’’ in last year’s elections and Paris is preparing legislation that would allow its judges to remove and block false online content. The issue of fake news was already an alarming threat to Brussels but this latest Facebook data scandal has only amplified the concerns of authorities.
US-China trade war escalates as EU considers taking Beijing to WTO
The trade war that has arisen between the world’s two biggest economies intensified further this week when China retaliated to the United States original imposition on levies of more than 1,300 Chinese goods. Markets slumped as the news emerged that Beijing would match Washington’s measures by enforcing additional tariffs of 25% on over 100 US goods, including soybeans and cars.
Fear of the mounting tit-for-tat trade war between the two global players did not seem to concern US president Donald Trump who pointed to his country’s enormous deficit with China, claiming on twitter that ‘’when you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!’’. His commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, backed the measures and highlighted that the tariffs only amounted to 0.3% of US GDP. Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs on soybeans is strategic as China is the biggest market for US soy and would hit American farmers hard.
The White House stated that the initial trade levies were put up against China due to its ‘’unfair trade practices related to the forced transfer of US technology and intellectual property’’. This concern is shared too by Brussels who admitted this week that it is ‘’closing examining’’ the option of filing complaints against Beijing before the WTO for their rules and practices on intellectual property. Although the Commission will want to avoid confrontation with China and further deteriorating world trade, it did disclose that it was gathering evidence and examining its WTO legal options.
East-West crisis deepens as Moscow continues to refute poisoning allegations
An emergency convention of the U.N. Security Council was held yesterday following calls from Russia that its members must meet to discuss the ongoing diplomatic feud over the west’s allegation that Moscow was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK last month. The Kremlin is continuing to deny any involvement with the attack and has at every opportunity attempted to pick holes in Britain’s nerve agent case, voicing instead its own theories about who might be behind the poisoning.
On Wednesday, Moscow lost a vote at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in its bid to establish a new investigation. Its demands for a joint inquiry into the poisoning was quickly dismissed by the British delegation who described the request as a ‘’perverse’’ attempt to ‘’evade the questions the Russian authorities must answer’’. Russia has a fickle history with the findings of the OPCW, having questioned its verdict that the Syrian government was responsible for a sarin gas attack in 2017.
Despite losing the ballot, Moscow continued in its attempt to dismantle the UK’s case against it, jumping on comments made by the director of Britain’s Porton Down defence labroratory, Gary Aikenhead, that while the lab identified the agent used as Novichok, it had not been able to identify its place of origin. When his comments appeared to contradict the statement made by the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, that the source of poisoning was categorially Russia, the Kremlin seized upon this inconsistency and again called that Russian scientists investigate the case. Good news emerged yesterday, however when Sergei Skripal’s daughter, Yulia, spoke to a relative by phone saying that ‘’everyone is getting better’’.
President opens up party discussions to form government
The Italian President Sergio Mattarella formally kicked off the first round of negotiations this Wednesday, meeting the leaders of each of the main parties as he oversees the long process of government formation. The Five Star Movement and the right-wing Northern League were the two big winners from last month’s general election but neither secured enough votes to form a government without wider support.
This political stalemate has resulted in Mr. Mattarella presiding over a difficult situation as he holds party consultations with the various groups in an attempt to form some sort of working government. With the previous incumbents the Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Berlusconi’s Forza Italia without enough votes to offer any real solutions, the president will be aware that it falls to either Five Star or the Northern League.
Five Star topped the polls with 32 per cent and its leader Luigi Di Maio has already claimed his right to first bid for premiership. He has voiced his support for a German-like coalition deal with the Northern League even though they sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum. However, the leader of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, has also maintained his claim at first attempt to form a government so clear divisions exist.
This week’s meetings will be the first of many in what is expected to be a widely protracted series of negotiations and meetings between all the parties. Markets around Europe have so far not reacted to the stalemate that has reached Italy but that could change rapidly if long delays unfold and Rome is left without a working government for months.