Warning that foreign ads 'could influence referendum on Eighth Amendment'

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon says it is possible foreign organisations could target voters in the upcoming abortion referendum using online advertising.

Concern was raised about the potential impact of online advertising on the upcoming abortion referendum by a number of politicians - writes independent.ie

Senator Michael McDowell sought confirmation there is nothing in data protection law that can stop a foreign organisation from running online ads targeting voters in the forthcoming referendum.

The example he gave was "a pro-choice or pro-life movement in Northern Ireland putting €1m worth of selective advertising into the internet".

Ms Dixon said she couldn't speak as to what electoral laws would apply, but said: "In relation to targeting online, yes, such an entity could purchase advertising with Facebook".

She made the remarks at the Oireachtas Communications Committee, where a senior Facebook executive also apologised for the tech company's involvement in the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

Questions have been raised about whether data was used to target voters in the US presidential election following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Data held by Facebook on as many as 87 million of its users may have been improperly shared by Cambridge Analytica, which gathered it through an online application on the social media site.

But Ms Dixon said the Cambrdige Analytica issue brought into focus the question of whether "big data" analytics combined with "mirco-targeting" capabilities on social media are being used to influence electoral outcomes.

She said a core concern is that the autonomy of individuals is potentially jeopardised.

Their ability to make choices may be dictated by the use of their information in a way they don't know about, haven't been told about, or don't understand.

Ms Dixon said concern about the manipulation of voters through such activities remain "largely theoretical at this stage" and there is no hard evidence of such activity having a tangible impact on the outcome of elections.

She also said the use of micro-targeting is thought to be more difficult in Europe in part because of EU data protection laws.

Facebook's vice-president Joel Kaplan told TDs and senators that the company was "deeply sorry" for the "violation of trust" that occurred in the recent controversy over Cambridge Analytica.

Mr Kaplan said Facebook has set up a "task-force" ahead of the upcoming abortion referendum here and that artificial intelligence will be used to detect fake accounts and remove them.

Facebook is also extending a pilot-programme to Ireland called the "view ads tool" that will allow users to see all of the ads a particular organisation is targeting at users. This will be introduced next Wednesday.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said they believed it should be brought in immediately.

Mr Stanley said there is concern at the potential "manipulation" of the referendum.

Mr Kaplan said he understands the "frustration and the desire that the tool should be out as quickly as possible... These things do take time to develop and... to implement."


Separately, Ms Dixon was also asked about the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is to be implemented here next month.

People Before Profit TD Ms Smith asked if, as well as offering more protection to children online, it will cover other vulnerable internet users like older people.

Ms Dixon said that under GDPR, internet users wouldn't have to "go searching" for what privacy settings should be switched on and off on a website.

She said the law requires "privacy by design" and users "should be able to anticipate there's a level of default protection when they arrive on a platform".

She said there was a requirement on online service providers to show they are giving children the additional protection they merit. There will be "plain language" notices for children.

Read more news of Dublin on our site.

referendumonEighthAmendment foreignads
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
2 views in september
I recommend
No recommendations yet


Comments are designed to communicate and discuss the features of an enterprise or event, as well as to find out the interesting questions on it.

A number of Ulster Bank customers are currently being impacted by an issue with the bank’s Anytime and Mobile Banking services. In a statement Ulster Bank said that it was aware that there are some issues on its Anytime and Mobile Banking services, and that it is working to fix them. The bank advised customers that its telephone banking and ATM services have not been impacted by the problem. "We are aware that customers are currently experiencing issues lo...
TWO national school teachers and an accountant have been spared jail for their part in a violent brawl in a well-known Dublin pub. Teachers Michael Davitt and Seamus O Cearra, as well as accountant Conor Shannon all walked free from court today after admitting violent disorder charges in the 10-man melee. A fourth accused, warehouse manager and soccer team captain Stephen Cantwell also avoided a prison sentence while a fifth, electrician David McSweeney wa...
Two people have been hospitalised with serious injuries and a man arrested on suspicion of drink-driving following a collision in Co Wexford. The two-car crash happened at The Leap in Clonroche at around 8.30pm yesterday evening. A man and woman, both in their 50s, were taken by ambulance to Wexford General Hospital. The driver of the second car, a man in his 50s, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of drink-driving. He has since been released from cust...
Long-standing plans to deliver hundreds of new homes on the site of the former Player Wills cigarette factory on Dublin's South Circular Road have come up against yet another obstacle. Documents lodged in the High Court showed the site's Nama-appointed receivers, Paul McCann and Stephen Tennant of Grant Thornton, are locked in legal proceedings in an effort to remove a company operating a salvage business from the site. The case relating to the tenancy rig...
Health Minister Simon Harris has been told his decision on whether to grant access to a revolutionary new drug for children with a rare degenerative condition is one of life or death. Families, friends, supporters and sufferers of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) gathered outside the Dail yesterday to call for access to the drug Spinraza. The only drug ever manufactured to treat SMA, a degenerative neuromuscular disorder, it is licensed, available and changin...
Storm damage at the ploughing championships has forced organisers to cancel the second day of the event. More than 100,000 people had been scheduled to attend Ireland's largest annual outdoor event outside Tullamore, Co Offaly. However, two delayed openings were not enough to save the National Ploughing Association (NPA) event, after tents were badly damaged by the gusting winds. NPA assistant managing director Anna Marie McHugh said the organisers will no...
A dream holiday to Ireland turned to tragedy for a tourist who died after her caravan was blown into the sea as Storm Ali battered the country. The woman, named locally as Elvira Ferraii from Switzerland, had arrived in the Clifden area of Galway the day before the tragic incident. She rented a caravan and was staying at the Clifden Eco Beach camping and caravan site in the Claddaghduff area, along the Atlantic coastline. At around 7.45am yesterday the car...
Teachers Michael Davitt and Seamus O Cearra and accountant Conor Shannon all walked free from court yesterday after admitting violent disorder charges over the 10-man melee. A fourth accused, warehouse manager Stephen Cantwell, also avoided a prison term while a fifth, electrician David McSweeney, was jailed for six months. Passing sentence, Judge Brian O'Shea said the teachers were "ambassadors for their schools" whenever they went out and they had "let t...
ESB Networks says 39,000 homes, farms and businesses are still without power this morning after StormAli crossed the country yesterday. Repair crews workedthrough the night, but 1,600 individual faults remain on the network. It says it hopes to restore power to everyone affected today. ESB Networks Operations Manager Derek Hynes said most repairs are in the Cavan/Longford, Monaghan and Mayo areas. He saidcrews need to get to 1,600 locations today andwarned...