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Facebook to avoid EU privacy rules in UK by moving users to US terms: Report

Facebook is set to make its users in United Kingdom (UK) sign user agreements with its parent company in the United States (US), in an attempt to avoid adhering to privacy laws in the European Union (EU), specifically in relation to its troubles in Ireland, reported Reuters. The social media giant’s plan comes even as Ireland’s High Court is reviewing the country’s Data Protection Commission’s (DPC) “preliminary decision” to suspend data from Ireland to the US.

The decision will affect Facebook users in the UK, which has left the EU. The company told Reuters that Facebook will be transferring the legal responsibilities and obligations over its UK users from Facebook Ireland (its European headquarters) to Facebook Inc, its global headquarters in California, US.

A company spokesperson reportedly said that users would be told of the shift in the next six months, thereby giving them the chance to continue or stop using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The social media giant has essentially made things easier for itself with regard to transfer of data between the UK and US. However, it will likely do little to ease its problems with EU authorities. In September, Ireland’s DPC had issued a preliminary order to suspend data transfers between EU and the US, after it held that a widely-prevalent legal mechanism for it — the use of standard contractual clauses (SCC) — is no longer valid.

The DPC’s order on SCC had come in light of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidating a EU-US data transfer agreement known as Privacy Shield, due to concerns of large scale state surveillance in the US. In its judgement, the CJEU said that SCCs were, in fact, valid. However, the Irish DPC later held SCCs invalid, hence instructing Facebook that it could no longer use SCCs to facilitate data transfers. Faceboook told Ireland’s High Court that the DPC’s order could have “devastating” and “irreversible” consequences for its business.

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With regard to UK, Facebook has taken an approach similar to Google, which earlier this year decided to place its UK users’ accounts under its US jurisdiction. This, too, was a reaction to UK leaving the EU. Both tech giants will, therefore, bypass strict EU privacy laws. Additionally, to make things easier for them, the UK has a bilateral cross-border data flow agreement with the US, as part of the US Cloud Act.

Meanwhile, the UK too is looking to pass legislation to regulate online platforms. Earlier this week, it introduced the Online Safety Bill, which proposes heavy penalties on illegal or harmful content. Last month, the government announced that it will be setting up a Digital Markets Unit (DMU) next year, to look into antitrust concerns of Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google.

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