Europe scrutinizes Facebook’s data collection — again?

Facebook’s under pressure once again from European authorities over the amount of data it collects, according to a string of reports that hit over the weekend. In particular, the focus is on an meeting this week between data protection officials from across the continent that could spell trouble for the world’s most powerful social network.

According to the U.K.’s Telegraph, the signal is that they will move to curb Facebook’s collection methods: a move is led by Viviane Reding, the commissioner in charge of human rights. She is already pushing hard to stop all sorts of services collecting too much data on users… even if that data is held outside Europe.

In a report suggesting that Facebook “faces a crackdown on selling users’ secrets to advertisers”, the newspaper quotes Reding as saying that social media services are being watched particularly closely:

“I call on service providers – especially social media sites – to be more transparent about how they operate. Users must know what data is collected and further processed (and) for what purposes.

“Consumers in Europe should see their data strongly protected, regardless of the EU country they live in and regardless of the country in which companies which process their personal data are established.”

The story has sparked a fresh wave of coverage of Facebook’s data policies, though it’s fair to point out that European authorities have long had their eyes on the data collected by social networks.

Scrutiny of Facebook in particular has increased as the site has become larger and larger. And in addition, the questions have stepped up a level in the last month or two since the case of Austrian student Max Schrems highlighted the amount of data that the company stores on users.

Schrems, a 24-year-old law student from Vienna, filed a request to get a copy of all the data that Facebook held about him — and received a stunning 1,222 pages of information in return.

So does this sudden spurt of stories tell us anything new? Not really.

My information is that this week’s meeting is unlikely to surface anything radically new, but merely another step forward for the already-controversial EU privacy directive, which is slowly coming into force across the continent.

But it does underscore the struggles between technology companies and the authorities over the way data is collected and used online.

Facebook admitted as much recently when, in testimony to a German parliamentary committee, the company’s top European lobbyist Richard Allan (previously an elected politician in Britain) that it would “do more” to work with them. The question is what “doing more” really means.