Apple Magazine - - Summary -

A co­hort of in­ter­na­tional law­mak­ers is try­ing to turn up the pres­sure on Face­book, grilling one of its ex­ec­u­tives and mak­ing a show of founder Mark Zucker­berg’s re­fusal to ex­plain to them why his com­pany failed to pro­tect users’ data pri­vacy.

The rare “in­ter­na­tional grand com­mit­tee” of law­mak­ers from nine coun­tries gath­ered in Lon­don to get an­swers about Face­book’s han­dling of per­sonal data and made a point of leav­ing an empty seat with Zucker­berg’s name tag.

Richard Al­lan, the com­pany’s vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy so­lu­tions, said he vol­un­teered to at­tend be­cause Zucker­berg had al­ready ap­peared be­fore other com­mit­tees this year, in­clud­ing in Wash­ing­ton and, briefly, Brus­sels.

Law­mak­ers from Canada, Ire­land, Brazil, Ar­gentina, Sin­ga­pore, Bel­gium, France and Latvia joined their Bri­tish coun­ter­parts at the par­lia­men­tary select com­mit­tee hear­ing — the first such cross-bor­der event in Lon­don since 1933. They want to scru­ti­nize Face­book over its han­dling of data pri­vacy, most no­tably in­volv­ing con­sul­tancy Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica’s im­proper use of in­for­ma­tion from more than 87 mil­lion Face­book ac­counts to ma­nip­u­late elec­tions.

Bri­tish select com­mit­tees are used to in­ves­ti­gate ma­jor is­sues and have the pow­er­ful — from CEOs to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials — ex­plain their de­ci­sions in a pub­lic fo­rum. They don’t have the power to make laws but the gov­ern­ment takes their rec­om­men­da­tions into ac­count when for­mu­lat­ing new poli­cies.

Al­lan ap­peared af­ter the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, Damian Collins, took the un­usual move of seiz­ing a trove of con­fi­den­tial in­ter­nal Face­book doc­u­ments from a vis­it­ing U.S. tech ex­ec­u­tive. The com­mit­tee wanted the files, which have been sealed by a Cal­i­for­nia judge, in the hope they would shed light on Face­book’s pri­vacy poli­cies.

Collins, who has not yet made the doc­u­ments pub­lic, asked Al­lan about one item he said was of con­sid­er­able pub­lic in­ter­est that sug­gests Face­book was alerted to pos­si­ble Rus­sian hacking years be­fore it be­came a ma­jor is­sue.

He said the doc­u­ment in­di­cates a Face­book en­gi­neer no­ti­fied his su­pe­ri­ors in Oc­to­ber 2014 that “en­ti­ties with Rus­sian IP ad­dresses” were pulling more than 3 bil­lion data points a day from Face­book.

Al­lan said that in­for­ma­tion was “at best par­tial and at worst po­ten­tially mis­lead­ing.”

Face­book said in a state­ment that the “the en­gi­neers who had flagged these ini­tial con­cerns sub­se­quently looked into this fur­ther and found no ev­i­dence of spe­cific Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity.”

The com­mit­tee ob­tained the files from Theodore Kramer, CEO of app maker Six4Three, af­ter they dis­cov­ered he was in Lon­don, threat­en­ing him with prison if he re­fused. Kramer’s com­pany ac­quired the files as part of a le­gal dis­cov­ery process in a law­suit against Face­book.

Al­lan apol­o­gized fre­quently but re­vealed lit­tle new about Face­book and its op­er­a­tions. He ac­knowl­edged that the com­pany has not been with­out blame in how it han­dled var­i­ous scan­dals.

“I’m not go­ing to dis­agree with you that we’ve dam­aged pub­lic trust with some of the ac­tions we’ve taken,” he said.

Al­lan was re­spond­ing to Cana­dian law­maker Char­lie An­gus, who said the so­cial me­dia gi­ant has “lost the trust of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to self-po­lice,” and that gov­ern­ments have to start look­ing at ways to hold the com­pany ac­count­able. Face­book ac­cepts that a reg­u­la­tory frame­work is needed, Al­lan said.

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