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Facebook’s dating app controversy has thrown cold water on CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s upcoming European trip, which was aimed at rebuilding trust in the company.
Zuckerberg is scheduled to participate in the annual Munich Security Conference, which begins February 14 and attracts a broad range of global policy makers and lawmakers. Then he has a pit stop in Brussels to meet with European Union officials to discuss internet regulations, according to Business Insider.
Facebook’s credibility was already a sore point with many European leaders, who have criticized the social media giant over issues surrounding fake news, disinformation, privacy breaches, and taxes.
Many of those leaders feel Facebook did not live up to the promise it made after its WhatsApp acquisition, when it said data would not be shared between the two platforms. In 2017, the EU fined Facebook $122 million for violating those agreements.
Last fall, distrust reemerged with a sharp reaction against Facebook’s proposed Libra cryptocurrency.
Earlier in 2019, the EU proposed rules aimed at curtailing the power of online platforms, including Facebook. And on February 19, the European Commission is scheduled to unveil a new set of data proposals that could include regulations for technologies such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition.
No doubt Zuckerberg had hoped to restore some confidence in the company’s handling of data and its commitment to Europe’s efforts to protect citizens. Instead, the latest dustup with Ireland risks reinforcing perceptions that Facebook is reckless and uncooperative.
Facebook began rolling out its new dating app last year. According to a statement posted February 12 by the Ireland Data Protection Commission, Facebook only officially contacted the agency on February 3 to inform it that the company would introduce the dating app in Europe the following week.
“We were very concerned that this was the first that we’d heard from Facebook Ireland about this new feature, considering that it was their intention to roll it out tomorrow, 13 February,” the DPC said in its statement. “Our concerns were further compounded by the fact that no information/documentation was provided to us on 3 February in relation to the Data Protection Impact Assessment or the decision-making processes that were undertaken by Facebook Ireland.”
Because Facebook has its European headquarters in Dublin, the Irish agency acts as the data office for enforcing European regulations. As a result of Facebook’s ham-fisted approach, the DPC said “authorized officers of the DPC conducted an inspection at Facebook Ireland Limited’s offices in Dublin on Monday last, 10 February and gathered documentation.”
Facebook subsequently agreed to delay release of the dating service in the EU. Meanwhile, the company seems to have committed yet another unforced error that is going to make earning European regulators’ trust even more difficult.