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European regulator probing Facebook calls for global data laws

(Bloomberg) --The European body probing Facebook Inc. has said global tech regulators need to get behind region’s rules about data privacy if they hope to keep tabs on companies such as Facebook Inc.

Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, said Wednesday that Facebook and other tech companies will have to continue to self-regulate under the European Union’s one-year-old General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. But self-regulation has to go hand-in-hand with supervision, she said, adding it will be a positive for regulators if global rules are more unified.

“In term of calls for more laws like GDPR, the more convergence we have, the better for supervisory authorities like ours,” Dixon said at Bloomberg’s Sooner Than You Think event in London.

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The Facebook Inc. application is displayed for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Dixon’s comments come as the regulator has at least eight separate open data-protection probes into Facebook, plus one into Instagram and two into WhatsApp, that could each result in hefty fines for the social media giant. In all, she has about 20 probes open into big technology companies, Dixon said.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg in March called for new global regulationsgoverning the internet, recommending overarching rules on privacy, hateful and violent content, and other issues. He said at the time it would be "good for the internet" if more countries adopted regulation like the European Union’s GDPR.

Dixon said Facebook suggestion for global regulations “positive." Since the bloc’s GDPR entered into force last May, European privacy regulators like Dixon have been armed with powers to impose fines as high as 4% of annual revenue if a company is found to have breached the rules.

Tech companies like Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube have also come under fire recently for not doing enough to curb the spread of hate speech, terrorist propaganda and disinformation on their platforms.

Facebook on Wednesday announced it would hire 500 staff in London by the end of 2019, including 100 roles in artificial intelligence, one of the areas that is hoped by tech companies to curb harmful content.

Mozilla Corp. has previously urged caution about plans by the EU to regulate the takedown of terrorist content online. It has said the planned rules requiring firms to wipe Islamic State videos and other propaganda from their sites within an hour of notification could incentivize firms to err on the side of caution and remove too much content, including lawful posts.