UK MPs challenge Facebook over contradictions in Cambridge Analytica evidence

1 Aug 2019

Image: Niall Carson/PA

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee has written to the social network over ‘concerns’ about Facebook executives’ evidence.

Facebook has been asked to clarify evidence given to a parliamentary select committee around the Cambridge Analytica scandal after legal documents in the US contradicted the firm’s account of events.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee chairman Damian Collins has written to the social network’s communications boss and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg requesting urgent clarification on events inside the firm, citing “concerns” over evidence given by its executives.

A complaint filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week claimed Facebook employees were aware that Cambridge Analytica had compromised Facebook user data months before the time two senior executives repeatedly told the committee the social network first learned of the data issues.

When appearing before the committee, both Facebook chief technical officer Mike Schroepfer and vice-president of policy solutions Richard Allan said the site first learned of the data misuse through media reports in December 2015.

However, the SEC complaint says Facebook staff first raised concerns on the matter in September 2015.

Mr Collins said MPs must “request clarity on these issues” from Facebook as a result.

The committee has also asked for information on “any and all instances where concerns about Cambridge Analytica were raised by employees” and for clarification on “why no action was taken until 2018” after the SEC complaint suggested Facebook staff were also aware of data misuse “throughout 2016 and beyond”.

Mr Collins’s letter adds that the committee has “serious and justifiable concerns” that despite staff at the company raising concerns about data misuse, “these incidents did not reach senior management, deliberately or otherwise”.

It points to the SEC complaint, which says “red flags” were not raised with senior staff in key meetings despite having been identified.

“We therefore request that you respond to our concerns as to why senior management, including Mark Zuckerberg, were not informed about these incidents until they were reported in the press,” the letter says.

“We believe this to be particularly egregious given that we have been told that these issues should have been reported through senior management and that the buck ultimately stops with Mr Zuckerberg himself.”

DCMS has asked Facebook to provide responses to its concerns by August 12.

Facebook executives appeared before the committee as part of its inquiry into disinformation and so-called ‘fake news’.

Last week, the social network was fined $5bn by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook also agreed to strict new internal oversight rules around data privacy as part of a settlement with the FTC.

It includes mechanisms meaning Zuckerberg will have to personally certify the company’s compliance with privacy measures and the company must submit quarterly privacy reviews to show its measures are working. Zuckerberg could also potentially be personally liable for any breaches that occur.

– PA Media