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Relax regulation or forget your data centre, Facebook told Canada gov’t

Written by Tue 5 Mar 2019

Facebook sought assurances from the Canadian government that it would not seek jurisdiction over non-Canadian data if the company went ahead with data centre

A series of leaked documents have revealed that Facebook threatened to pull investment from a data centre in Canada if the Canadian government failed to temper regulation regarding Facebook’s non-Canadian data.

‘Firm approach’

In documents seen by the Observer and Computer Weekly, apparently related to a court case against Facebook by app developer Six4Three, Facebook dangled the carrot of investment and job opportunities, with CEO Sheryl Sandberg leading the offensive with the then industry minister Christian Paradis.

“Sheryl took a firm approach and outlined that a decision on the data centre was imminent,” the documents note. “She emphasised that if we could not get comfort from the Canadian government on the jurisdiction issue, we had other options.”

Even after the Canadian government promptly yielded to Facebook’s pressure by supplying the agreement it had asked for, the data centre was not built.

“They were trying to get Canada to give them what they called a letter of comfort which would take a Canadian data centre out of Canadian regulation,” said Duncan Campbell, the UK-based freelance investigative journalist who helped uncover the story.

“So they said, you know, ‘if you guys want our data centre you have to make special laws that we are uncovered by normal Canadian privacy standards’,” Campbell told CBC News.

Facebook denied reports that it had used a potential data centre as leverage, telling CBC News it ‘was not a threat to withhold investment, but part of our duty to protect peoples data’.

“Before we commit to opening a data centre anywhere in the world, we want to make sure we fully understand the country’s laws and privacy protections.”

Facebook confirmed the data centre was never built.

Last year the UK government accused Facebook of ‘playing games’ by trying to dodge House of Commons appearance dates pertaining to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Written by Tue 5 Mar 2019


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