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U.K. Parliament Snatches Facebook Documents Tied to Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Last week, Max Read, writing in New York Magazine, estimated that Facebook hasn’t been able to disassemble the barrage of criticism leveled its way because its services aren’t all that useful. “Amazon delivers things to your house. Google helps you find things online. Apple sells actual objects. Facebook … helps you get into fights? Delivers your old classmates’ political opinions to your brain?” wrote Read.

He’s got a point, if not unduly dismissive of the platform’s unparalleled ability to get the word out. Facebook’s mishandling of its goldmine, its repositories of personal data as captured from some 2.2 billion users worldwide, has the company steeping in hot water, pretty much of its own doing. On Monday, in the latest episode in its increasingly acrimonious battle with the British parliament, lawmakers snatched internal Facebook documents that implicated some senior executives and chairman Mark Zuckerberg in the social giant’s arrogant privacy and data sharing policies that led to Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting data on 90 million users without their knowledge. (via The Guardian)

There’s some background here worth repeating:

  • The documents in question relate to a lawsuit against Facebook filed in 2015 by Six4Three, a small software developer, that alleged the social platform abruptly changed how it allowed third parties to access a particular feature, crippling sales of its app and, correspondingly, its business.
  • The San Mateo, California judge (where the initial lawsuit was filed) had previously ordered that documents Six4Three obtained under discovery should remain under seal.
  • However, on Monday, U.K. Member of Parliament Damian Collins told Six4Three managing director Ted Kramer that he would be in contempt of Parliament by not handing over the documents. Kramer folded and gave the materials to Collins. (via Arstechnica).

“We are in uncharted territory,” Collins reportedly said. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

This is what Collins is talking about: Last week, Zuckerberg raised the ire of officials from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore and the U.K. who wanted to question him on Facebook’s susceptibility to pass on bogus stories. The social network instead sent Richard Allan, Facebook’s VP of policy solutions, to testify in his place. It wasn’t the best of ideas. “The Committee still believes that Mark Zuckerberg is the appropriate person to answer important questions about data privacy, safety, security and sharing,” the officials said in a statement.

Facebook’s position on the seized documents is that they’re sealed and cannot be reviewed by Collins, who chairs the U.K.’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). “The materials obtained by the DCMS committee are subject to a protective order of the San Mateo Superior Court restricting their disclosure. We have asked the DCMS committee to refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook. We have no further comment.”

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