Facebook hits pause on election reminders within Europe

The social media giant is using the temporary hiatus to tackle concerns over transparency with regard to its voting feature.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Facebook users in Europe will have to remember to vote on their own for now.

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

For the past 12 years whenever election day rolls around, Facebook users have received a reminder to get out and vote. But users based in Europe won't see these reminders for the foreseeable future, and will have to remember to vote without this digital prompt.

Facebook said Thursday that it'll hit pause on its election day reminder feature in Europe ahead of upcoming elections because of concerns that were raised by Ireland's Data Protection Commission before the Irish general election earlier this month. The decision was first reported by Netzpolitik

A spokeswoman for the Irish watchdog said in a statement the election day reminder feature "raised a number of data protection concerns particularly around transparency to users about how personal data is collected when interacting with the feature and subsequently used by Facebook."

The company's election reminders have garnered wide praise from a number of studies dating back to 2012 that say allowing people to show their friends that they voted boosts voter turnout, sometimes by hundreds of thousands of people. But Europe's strict data protection law, the GDPR, requires companies to be completely transparent with how they use people's data -- something the DPC is saying Facebook doesn't do with regards to its election day feature.

Ireland's DPC is responsible for making decisions about whether Facebook is adhering to EU data rules for the whole bloc because the company's headquarters are in Dublin. The spokeswoman said the feature is on hiatus while the company works out an adequate fix.

"The DPC sought a number of remedial actions from Facebook," she said. "However, as it was not possible to implement these in advance of the Irish election, Facebook decided not to launch the EDR during the election. Facebook has confirmed that the Election Day reminder feature will not be activated during any EU elections pending a response to the DPC addressing the concerns raised."

A spokesman for Facebook confirmed in a statement that the company is working with the DPC to address its concerns and has paused the feature across Europe "for the time being."

"We believe that the Election Day reminder is a positive feature which reminds people to vote and helps them find their polling place," said the Facebook spokesman. "We are committed to processing people's information lawfully, fairly, and in a transparent manner."