A UK parliamentary committee examining the issue of disinformation and fake news has accused Facebook of misleading MPs by downplaying the risk of users’ data being shared without their consent and said it wanted Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to explain allegations. Damian Collins, chair of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, said Zuckerberg or a senior executive from the social media company must provide answers to the committee after a newspaper investigation claimed that Cambridge Analytica, a British political campaigns firm, acquired and kept information about users without consent. “Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page,” the Conservative MP said in a statement.
“Data has been taken from Facebook users without their consent, and was then processed by a third party and used to support their campaigns. I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg asking that either he, or another senior executive from the company, appear to give evidence in front of the committee as part our inquiry,” he noted. A joint investigation by the ‘Observer’ and ‘The New York Times’ used information provided by a whistleblower to reveal that 50 million, mostly American, profiles were harvested in one of Facebook’s biggest data breaches. Last month, both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix had told the DCMS inquiry that the company did not have or use private Facebook data, or any data from data collection firm Global Science Research (GSR). Collins said Nix had “deliberately mislead” the DCMS committee by denying his company had received information from GSR.
GSR, which is owned by Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan, collected information on up to 50 million people through a personality-testing app. Thousands gave permission for their data to be collected for academic use by the app, but it also collected information about their Facebook friends, reports found. The UK Information Commissioner’s Officer has also said that it would investigate the potential breach after former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie revealed Cambridge Analytica had used personal information to build a system that profiled US voters to target them with political ads. Earlier this week, Facebook suspended the company, which worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, after it emerged it had not deleted information about Facebook users.
In a blog post, the social network said Kogan had violated its rules by passing on user data to a third party, and that both he and Cambridge Analytica had failed to delete the information despite providing assurances they had done so. Cambridge Analytica responded to the newspaper expose on Twitter: “We refute(s) these mischaracterisations and false allegations. “Reality Check: Cambridge Analytica uses client and commercially and publicly available data; we don’t use or hold any Facebook data.
When we learned GSR sold us Facebook data that it shouldn’t have done, we deleted it all – system wide audit to verify.” The ongoing parliamentary inquiry into fake news, which has been hearing oral evidence this month, said it has repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and in particular whether data had been taken from people without their consent. The committee said the answers that have been given so far have consistently understated the risk.