Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD has taken serious issue with the government’s refusal to outlaw the repugnant practice of harvesting children’s data for marketing purposes by large companies including Facebook.

Deputy Shortall criticised the government’s Data Protection Bill 2018, which is currently before the Oireachtas, for failing to include robust restrictions on how companies collect, use and monetise children’s data.

Deputy Shortall said:

“The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has brought home to us just how easily people’s online data can be misused.  We really need to ask ourselves if we think it is acceptable for the data of children to be susceptible to being used?  And, if we can trust large scale data processors like Facebook, Google, and Snapchat to use children’s data responsibly without compelling them through legal sanction? I just don’t think we can.

“Time and again, these companies have proven they cannot be trusted to act responsibly when it comes to users’ data. Time and again, they have only acted to tighten privacy controls when they are caught, or in response to massive public pressure. I am not alleging that anything they did, or are currently doing, is illegal. But that is at the core of the problem.

“These companies may stick by the letter of the law, but their sole concern is their bottom line. We may all agree that harvesting the personal data of children for marketing purposes is repugnant. But if it isn’t clearly prohibited there is no incentive for these companies to stop the practice.”

Deputy Shortall said it was disappointing that the government’s Bill would encourage, but not require, codes of conduct in relation to how data processors engage with children and handle their data.

She added:

“This Bill does next to nothing to add additional restrictions to the collection of children’s data. Instead it gives the companies that will be processing this data huge scope in how they collect, use, and monetise it.

“The Minister for Justice needs to assure us that he will task the Data Protection Commission to encourage data processors to put an end to the collection of children’s data for marketing or commercial purposes.

“The Minister has said he has concerns about introducing further restrictions on data processes – but we need to know precisely what these concerns are and why he has not been proactive in taking steps to address the issue.  The Minister also needs to clearly set out what legal advice he has sought and received that has led him to introduce such watered-down controls.”

ENDS

17 April 2018