Report Reveals Scope Of Facebook's Anti-Privacy Lobbying In The EU

Facebook Logo Nov 15 2018 AH

A new set of reports that surfaced over the weekend suggests Facebook’s efforts aimed at lobbying against privacy legislation in the European Union were wider and more aggressive than initially thought.

The Observer and Computer Weekly report that Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg personally tried influencing former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Prime Minister David Cameron, George Osborne. Ms. Sandberg invited one of his children to the company’s offices and directly asked for his help in shaping the initiative that ultimately led to the enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation.

Seeing how GDPR went into effect just under a year ago and placed Facebook and the rest of the industry under significant pressure and scrutiny in regards to how they approach data privacy, Facebook’s lobbying efforts failed to amount to anything the company would realistically label a success. The initial approach to Mr. Osborne was made no later than 2013 when numerous C-suite officials from Facebook personally mingled with top European decision-makers, as per the new revelations.


An internal memo cited by the report reveals Ms. Sandberg also attempted influencing Viviane Reding during her third term as the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media. The executive invited her to dinner organized with the goal of promoting the strengthened female representation on corporate boards but failed to make inroads as Ms. Reding was firm in her stance that the social media segment needs more hands-on regulation. Facebook’s lobbying team also described her as “not a fan” of American companies, noting how she felt the discussion about female representation in the tech industry that Ms. Sandberg was trying to push was a rather “American” effort. To this date, it’s unclear what the comment was meant to imply.

At the same time, Facebook believes it successfully swayed then-PM Enda Kenny and leveraged his political capital while Ireland was presiding over the EU in order to limit the severity of the political bloc’s Data Protection Directive, internal documents cited by the same report reveal.

Mr. Osborne is believed to have been targeted by Facebook over concerns about the privacy initiative he voiced on his own. The veteran politician said he did not lobby on the social media juggernaut’s behalf as a result of the 2013 meeting.


Facebook’s lobbying efforts aimed at curbing regulation are now expected to refocus on its home turf after failing to significantly alter the contents of GDPR which is already being used as a legal basis for new complaints launched against it. Right now, the Federal Trade Commission is understood to be working on an unprecedented fine for Facebook’s failures to preserve the privacy of its users.

Despite dozens of scandals, American regulators are yet to formally punish the Menlo Park, California-based firm over the errors and ommissions that enabled them. The incident that changed its luck in the U.S. was the Cambridge Analytica debacle from last year. Its emergence is what resulted in numerous stateside probes, many of which are still ongoing, and none of which are likely to be settled without significant fines or concessions.