Facebook's Zuckerberg fails to attend Commons fake news hearing

Facebook's Zuckerberg fails to attend Commons fake news hearing

Kerry Wise
November 30, 2018

Damian Collins, the British lawmaker who chairs a parliamentary committee investigating disinformation and the use of people's data, asked during a hearing on Tuesday whether the company had reported to any "external body" that a Facebook engineer had told the company in October 2014 that computers with links to Russian Federation were collecting "over 3 billion data points a day" through a Facebook access point.

Zuckerberg's absence from the hearing, having turned down several invitations to appear before the global committee, was noted by an empty chair with Allan answering questions in his stead.

Mr Collins, who chairs the culture media and sport select committee, used powers to get hold of the documents from Ted Kramer, the founder of U.S. app developer Six4Three.

"If it's not down, it should be", Allan told Tong before the lawmaker revealed a communication from Facebook saying the post in question did not actually violate the company's 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 US tech executive.

"I will take responsibility for decision-making around appearances", Allan replied. 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.

The same documents are now under a court seal in the U.S.

Details from the seized documents were referred to in a fiery International Grand Committee hearing chaired by Collins on Tuesday, with representatives from nine countries present.

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The documents were not released at the hearing, but the member, Damion Collins, referenced them during questioning.

Damian Collins, head of a committee of British lawmakers investigating the impact of fake news, said he had reviewed an email from a Facebook engineer highlighting suspicious Russian-linked data harvesting on Facebook two years before that.

Sitting next to the empty space with Zuckerberg's name on it at the hearing was Richard Allan, Facebook's vice president of policy solutions, sent to answer questions in the CEO's stead.

"I would expect some political grandstanding tomorrow and I would expect Facebook ... to resist any provocations", he said.

"I have a role supporting my company as it tries to grapple with the issues we are discussing today and when we are trying to decide where senior officers of the company should be, we need to balance that out", Allan said in response to repeated questions about why he was appearing instead of Zuckerberg.

Allan said Facebook's ad model isn't going to undergo a wholesale shift any time soon, but it may see some changes. "At the moment, in the United Kingdom, we say if you're talking about a party or a candidate, or an issue in front of the legislature", he explained. The committee used its powers to force the chief executive Six4Three, Theodore Kramer, who was on a business trip to London, to turn over the files.

Mr. Allan said that information was "at best partial and at worst potentially misleading". Canada is continuing to investigate data breaches of personal information of more than 600,000 Canadian users.

At the hearing, Allan answered a question from a Canadian representative about whether Facebook would entertain antitrust regulation.