Facebook holds identifiable data on approximately 205 million Europeans or about 40-percent of the European Union's population, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Barcelona, Spain-based University Carlos III. The social media giant was found to have linked nearly every three out of four profiles of its EU users with interests deduced from their personal data. While that alone doesn't make the data pertaining to individual accounts easily identifiable, contemporary big data techniques and similar solutions likely wouldn't have issues with de-anonymizing such information should it ever be compromised, the research suggests.
The authors of the study said Facebook uses such interest labels to improve its ad targeting, thus "commercially exploiting" that data, and have called for the company to revamp its business model due to its concerning privacy implications, primarily the fact that storing identifiable data used to help advertisers could expose users to phishing attacks. Malicious entities interested in exploiting such information would also be able to do so at a relatively low cost, the study concludes, estimating that uncovering personally identifiable data of individuals such as religious beliefs and sexual orientation could cost them as little as €0.015 ($0.02) per user.
Facebook's privacy-related practices in Europe will be severely limited starting late May when the EU's General Data Protection Regulation is set to go into effect. While the Menlo Park, California-based firm has recently been revamping some aspects of its operations in order to better inform users of how their private data is handled and ensure such information is adequately protected, it still has rather tense relations with privacy watchdogs on the Old Continent, especially in light of recent verdicts that found it guilty of illegally collecting user data in Germany and Belgium. Facebook already confirmed it will be appealing both rulings but such moves are likely to attract an undesirable kind of publicity for the company given the EU's major privacy protection push planned for spring. The social media company is presently in the process of fighting the spread of misinformation on its platform but is still enjoying record commercial performance, having generated $4.27 billion in profit over the final quarter of 2017 alone.