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Dutch watchdog says government should stop using Facebook if there are privacy concerns

FILE - The Facebook app is shown on a smartphone.
FILE - The Facebook app is shown on a smartphone. Copyright Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
Copyright Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
By Lauren Chadwick
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The Dutch Data Protection Authority said the government must be able to guarantee that data processing complies with the law.

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The Netherlands' data watchdog recommended that the government not use Facebook to communicate with the public if it is unclear what happens to users' personal data.

Aleid Wolfsen, chairman of the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens or Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP), said in a statement released last week that people rely on the government and use social media platforms like Facebook to communicate with it.

He said that government organisations should not use such platforms for communication if they do not know what is happening with people's data.

In a letter dated March 24, the data watchdog told the government that citizens should be able to trust that their data is handled carefully.

The advice followed a demand from the Netherlands' Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations in October 2023 about whether the government should use Facebook Pages.

State Secretary Alexandra Van Huffelen, in charge of digitalisation, said in a statement provided to Euronews Next that she thinks "it is important that the Dutch government deals with the protection of personal data and citizens' rights in a lawful and careful manner".

She added that she wanted clarity from Meta "as soon as possible, at the latest before the summer recess, on how they are addressing our concerns".

"Otherwise, in line with the advice of the DPA, we will be forced to stop our activities on Facebook pages," she said.

"We fundamentally disagree with the assessment that underpins this advice, which is wrong on the facts and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding as to how our products work," said a spokesperson from Facebook's parent company Meta.

"We review all Meta products to ensure they comply with laws in the regions in which we offer our services, and will continue to engage with the Government to ensure they can use social media to communicate with people," the spokesperson added.

Previous recommendation to stop using Facebook

The Dutch interior ministry had previously investigated possible privacy risks and concluded that it did not have a good idea of how Facebook used the data of people visiting Dutch government pages.

A Data protection impact assessment from 2022 recommended that "government organisations should stop using Facebook Pages if Facebook does not take measures to mitigate the high data protection risks".

The ministry asked for additional advice from the data protection authority as Meta had criticised the assessment.

The Netherlands' government website says people can ask questions of its public information service via WhatsApp, X, Facebook, or email.

Dutch broadcaster RTL, meanwhile, reported that the government would likely remain on the platform for the time being with some ministries criticising potentially leaving it.

A ministry spokesperson confirmed that government ministers discussed the issue last Friday and said that Facebook was an important tool to communicate with Dutch citizens.

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