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Facebook comes under blistering fire from all sides

Paul Brislen, Editor. 28 November 2018, 7:23 am

The sharks are well and truly circling Facebook as it faces questions about its business practices, calls for the media giant to be broken up and concerns in a growing number of countries about its role in spreading false news narratives and potentially interfering in national elections.

The latest blow to the once unstoppable "we're not a publishing house but we do own the world's advertising revenue" company comes in the form of the UK House of Commons "culture, media and sport" select committee which is threatening to publish the documents under parliamentary privilege.

The Committee has come into possession of documents that allege Facebook not only knew of Cambridge Analytica's access to massive amounts of personal data, but actively encouraged app developers to do just that, and did so far earlier in the story than Facebook has publicly acknowledged.

The documents include personal emails to and from founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who has steadfastly refused to appear before the Committee and has now been summoned to a number of similar hearings around the world.

The chair of the Committee, Damian Collins, took the extraordinary step of seizing the documents from the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, during a trip to London, according to The Guardian newspaper.

"[P]arliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it's understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn't hand over the documents."

The documents form part of Six4Three's legal stoush with Facebook over the company's decision to revoke access to personal data thus destroying Six4Three's business model. The app was designed to allow users to "find pictures of their friends' friends in bikinis" and oddly enough once Facebook changed its terms and conditions, this feature no longer worked.

Collins says the Committee has been frustrated by Facebook's lack of answers to questions about its activities, and by Zuckerberg's refusal to attend hearings.

"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," he is quoted as saying in The Guardian.

Collins made this move just days before the fabulously named "International Grand Committee on Disinformation" met - this committee includes representatives from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, but not at this stage anyone from New Zealand. 

Minister of Justice Andrew Little told The Spin Off that he was keeping a watching brief on the matter and could well take action if the need arises.


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