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How will Brexit affect digital privacy in the UK?

Brexit has been one big chaotic mess, but there are some beneficiaries of the madness. Facebook is one of them. It was reported yesterday that the tech corporation—which is currently getting hammered from all directions by major lawsuits—is going to move all of its UK users into agreements with its corporate headquarters in California.

Previously, users in Britain were set up with the company’s Euro headquarters in Ireland, which meant they were under the purview of the European Union and its robust privacy laws. As Ireland is still a member of the EU, many of the legal agreements it had with the UK are changing or ending altogether, and Facebook is taking advantage of that. (So is Google, for that matter. I haven’t used Google in ages. There are plenty of alternatives. For instance, when I’m looking for an NDIS provider finder, I use DuckDuckGo.)

In a statement to Reuters, Facebook’s UK branch confirmed that it was shifting British users to the California framework, but insisted rather unconvincingly that user privacy would not be affected.

“Like other companies, Facebook has had to make changes to respond to Brexit and will be transferring legal responsibilities and obligations for UK users from Facebook Ireland to Facebook Inc,” Facebook said. “There will be no change to the privacy controls or the services Facebook offers to people in the UK.”

Users in the UK will still be governed by that country’s privacy regime, which is similar to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But “people familiar with the company” told Reuters that Facebook is motivated by a desire to get out from under the GDPR’s restrictions. Among other things, the GDPR places limitations on how much data can be shared between Europe and the US.

The concern now is that London, in order to secure an attractive trade deal with Washington, will relax its own privacy laws to enable a freer exchange of information, opening up users to all manner of violations. Jim Killock, executive director of the UK-based Open Rights Group, remarked upon the danger inherent in such a development. “The bigger the company,” he explained, “the more personal data they hold, the more they are likely to be subject to surveillance duties or requirements to hand over data to the US government.”

The shift goes into effect next year; shortly after, Facebook will notify users via an update to its terms of service.

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By Matthew Jackson

I'm a tech guy who maintains a number of websites. I like to keep up to date on the weird, wild world that is social media, hence this blog. My friends--I have a few--call me MJ.