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ICO urges Facebook to explain how it will protect Libra coin data

The UK’s data protection watchdog has joined the chorus of critics concerned about the privacy implications of Facebook’s digital currency.

In a letter signed by seven of the world’s most powerful privacy regulators, Facebook and its 28 partners have been urged to disclose their efforts to protect users’ data.

The letter states: “Many of us in the regulatory community have had to address previous episodes where Facebook’s handling of people’s information has not met the expectations of regulators, or their own users.

“Because of this, we are sharing our expectations of the Libra Association, Facebook’s subsidiary Calibra, and any future Libra digital wallet provider (collectively referred to as the Libra Network) in protecting the personal information it will handle.”

The data protection regulators, based in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Burkina Faso, Albania and the EU, call on the Libra Association to explain how personal data will be used “to allow users to provide specific and informed consent”. The regulators are seeking to find out if the partnership plans to use data for profiling purposes.

The regulators warn that Facebook’s power as a platform means that once Libra coin goes live, it may “instantly become the custodian of millions of people’s personal information. This combination of vast reserves of personal information with financial information and cryptocurrency amplifies our privacy concerns”.

Facebook’s plan to launch a digital coin has attracted scrutiny from politicians and regulators in the US and across Europe. Critics have expressed concern about money laundering, Facebook’s suitability as a processor of financial data, and the impact Libra could have on the stability of fiat currencies, especially those in the developing world.

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, has also wadded into the debate, warning that Libra could have a systemic impact on the global economy. “You have to be on all the time, you can’t have teething issues, you can’t have people losing money out of their wallets,” he said. “The standards are in a different zip code, to use the American term, to the standards in other technologies.”

In an apparent rebuke of the Silicon Valley mantra, “move fast and break things”, Carney added: “This is not learn on the job stuff. It’s got to be rock solid right from the start, or it’s not going to start.’’