technology

Zuckerberg Summoned by U.K. Parliament as Data Firm Faces Searches

Updated on
  • Facebook CEO requested to give evidence in fake news probe
  • ICO seeks search warrant; EU regulatory panel weigh next steps
Lawmakers Want to Hear From Facebook's Zuckerberg Directly

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg may have to do a tour of European parliaments to appease lawmakers in the wake of allegations a British firm that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 election kept information about tens of millions of the social network’s users.

Damian Collins, head of a U.K. parliament committee investigating the impact of social media on recent elections, invited Zuckerberg to answer for a "catastrophic failure of process" as reports emerged concerning Cambridge Analytica, the U.K. firm at the center of the privacy scandal.

Soon after, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said his assembly, which meets in Brussels and Strasbourg, France, issued a similar invite.

Regulators are examining whether information on millions of Facebook users was illegally held by Cambridge Analytica after it was obtained from a researcher who shared the data without Facebook’s permission. According to published news reports, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created a personality-analysis app that was used by 270,000 Facebook users, who in turn gave the app permission to access data on themselves and their friends, ultimately exposing a network of 50 million.

“Reputationally, this seems catastrophic for Facebook, regardless of whether it is found to be innocent or not,” said Philip James, an attorney specializing in privacy and cyber security at law firm Sheridans in London. “No incident to date has resonated with both the public and government together so strongly.”

‘Manipulate Democracy’

Tajani said in a tweet on Tuesday that lawmakers had invited Zuckerberg “to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy.”

Separately, the EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said she also plans to discuss the matter with Facebook during a visit in the U.S. this week.

Facebook said in a blog post on the issue that it was “moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. We remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information.”

The Menlo Park, California-based company is also under investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over whether the company violated terms of a 2011 consent decree over its handing of user data that was transferred to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Search Warrant

U.K. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she’s in the process of obtaining a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica. Meanwhile, a panel of data privacy authorities from the 28-nation EU are expected to discuss the issue at a meeting in Brussels Tuesday.

Cambridge Analytica failed to respond to an access request by the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, forcing the authority to seek a warrant “to obtain information and access to systems and evidence,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

The British company said in a statement that it’s been in touch with ICO since last year about various aspects of its activities. It said it remains “committed to helping the ICO and all other concerned organizations in their investigations and audits.”

Voluntary Search?

Concerning Facebook data, the firm said it “offered to share with the ICO all the information that it asked for and for the ICO to attend our office voluntarily, subject to our agreeing the scope of the inspection.”

In an earlier statement Cambridge Analytica said it “strongly” denied “false allegations” in the media and said that the Facebook data at the center of the scandal wasn’t used as part of services provided to the Trump campaign.

Facebook has enlisted the firm Stroz Friedberg to assess advertising-data provider Cambridge Analytica, whose handling of Facebook user data has mired the social networking company in controversy.

“On March 19, Facebook announced that it will stand down its search of Cambridge Analytica premises at the Information Commissioner’s request,” the ICO said in the statement. “Such a search would potentially compromise a regulatory investigation.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, Denham said that the ICO was "concerned about the integrity of our investigation. We are also looking at Facebook at the same time. Our advice to Facebook was ‘back away.’” She told Channel 4 News earlier that the agency was seeking a warrant.

Kogan and Cambridge Analytica had agreed to be audited by Stroz Friedberg to determine whether the data company still has the disputed information.

(Updates with European Parliament invitation in second, sixth paragraphs.)
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