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17th Apr 2021

British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule

  • Mark Zuckerberg in 2011, on a visit to the Elysee in France (Photo: Cyril Attias)

The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed a "profound failure of governance within Facebook", members of the British House of Commons have concluded in a report published on Monday (18 February).

MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport committee said the data breach was so big and important that it "should have been referred to Mark Zuckerberg as its CEO immediately".

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"The fact that it was not is evidence that Facebook did not treat the breach with the seriousness it merited," the MPs wrote.

Cambridge Analytica was a company which mined data from Facebook users to target political advertising, without those users knowing.

"It was a profound failure of governance within Facebook that its CEO did not know what was going on, the company now maintains, until the issue became public to us all in 2018," the British MPs noted.

"The incident displays the fundamental weakness of Facebook in managing its responsibilities to the people whose data is used for its own commercial interests," the report said.

The British MPs said the scandal showed Facebook needed to be regulated more tightly.

They pointed to new rules in Germany and France as positive examples.

Since one year ago, tech companies are required by German law to remove hate speech from their website within 24 hours or risk a fine of €20m.

"As a result of this law, one in six of Facebook's moderators now works in Germany, which is practical evidence that legislation can work," said the report.

Although Facebook has publicly stated it would be open to "the right kind of regulation", MPs did not believe the US tech company really was.

"Despite all the apologies for past mistakes that Facebook has made, it still seems unwilling to be properly scrutinised," the report said.

MPs were particularly annoyed by CEO Zuckerberg's refusal to appear in front of its committee.

They reminded that Australian national Rupert Murdoch was willing to give evidence to a UK inquiry into a phone hacking scandal, and that it was "considered common practice for foreign nationals to give evidence before committee".

He was asked to appear in front of a committee of MPs not only from the House of Commons, but also from other countries, including Belgium, France, Ireland, and Latvia.

Zuckerberg decided to send lower-ranked executives instead.

"By choosing not to appear before the committee and by choosing not to respond personally to any of our invitations, Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt towards both the UK parliament and the 'international grand committee', involving members from nine legislatures from around the world," the report said.

MPs said they had "no doubt" that there was a deliberate strategy behind the way Facebook dealt with the inquiry.

"Facebook used the strategy of sending witnesses who they said were the most appropriate representatives, yet had not been properly briefed on crucial issues, and could not or chose not to answer many of our questions," the report said.

"They then promised to follow up with letters, which - unsurprisingly - failed to address all of our questions," it added.

Facebook has some 250m users in the EU - around half of the population. The Cambridge Analytica scandal affected some 2.7 million users in the EU. It also possibly influenced the Brexit vote.

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[UPDATED] Last month's 'hearing' with Facebook CEO allowed him to give only general or evasive answers about the data breach scandal involving Cambridge Analytica - partly due to the controversial format of the meeting.

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