In a report released Monday, British lawmakers claim Facebook “intentionally and knowingly” violated the country’s data privacy laws.
The report is yet another step backwards for the social media giant, which has faced increasing criticism since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March 2018.
Facebook’s “handling of personal data, and its use for political campaigns, are prime and legitimate areas for inspection by regulators, and it should not be able to evade all editorial responsibility for the content shared by its users across its platforms,” reads the report.
The 108-page document marks the end of an 18-month on social media’s role in spreading disinformation (fake news) and interfering in politics. The study was conducted by the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee following Parliament’s decision that Facebook broke the law when it failed to inform users their data was being used for political purposes by Cambridge Analytica.
Materials reviewed by the committee suggest Facebook was “willing to override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data” to big companies like Spotify, Airbnb, and Netflix and used its market clout to drive others out of business.
“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world,” argues the report, “considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law.”
The report personally criticizes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for refusing to meet with the committee (despite multiple invitations) and accuses him of sending in his place witnesses who “had not been properly briefed on critical issues.”
Mr. Zuckerberg “continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” laments committee chair Damian Collins.
The committee is now calling on lawmakers to create legislation that would:
- Force Facebook to follow a code of ethics
- Hold Facebook accountable for harmful and incorrect content
- Create an independent watchdog with the power to fine Facebook for violations
Similar proposals are being considered by lawmakers in the US.
Despite the facts, Facebook denies that it sold user data or broke any laws and insists that it offers adequate transparency.
“We are not the same company we were a year ago,” argues Karim Palant, a public policy manager for Facebook. “We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”
Palant acknowledged the company had made mistakes and was open to “meaningful regulation.”
In the meantime, the US Federal Trade Commission is negotiating a multi-billion fine with Facebook as it concludes an investigation launched in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Similar to the complaints expressed by lawmakers in the UK, the FTC says Facebook lacked transparency in regards to its data sharing. As reported by The Washington Post, the agency’s fine on Facebook will likely be the largest ever issued against a tech company.
Editor’s note: Could it be that governments are finally having the guts to fight for privacy rights? I like the trend but its still hit or miss that politicians can maintain a will against the large tech companies.