Call for Facebook to answer more questions before MPs

Damian Collins wants Facebook to face more questions from MPs amid concerns that the social network may have given misleading responses during its last probe in April.

Mr Collins, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, accused the tech giant of rewarding firms with data privileges that other organisations do not enjoy, following a report in the New York Times claiming it gave companies far greater access to user data than previously believed, including access to messages.

“Facebook should come back in front of the Committee to explain how their policies work on access to user data, and whether policies are a breach of data privacy law, as it would appear that user data was made available to firms without the informed consent of the user having been given,” the MP for Folkestone and Hythe said.

Damian Collins
Damian Collins, chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (PA)

“I feel that we have been given misleading responses by the company when we have asked these questions during previous evidence sessions.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg rejected repeated calls to give evidence before the committee’s fake news inquiry, instead sending chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer.

At the time, Mr Collins said Facebook failed to provide “a sufficient level of detail and transparency” and complained of discrepancies between Mr Schroepfer’s evidence and answers provided by Mr Zuckerberg to the US Senate.

Mr Zuckerberg was also empty chaired at an “international grand committee” of politicians from nine countries including the UK, Ireland, Canada and France in November, after refusing to attend personally.

DCMS select committee on fake news
Mike Schroepfer, chief technical officer for Facebook faced the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Select Committee in April (PA)

“We have to seriously challenge the claim by Facebook that they are not selling user data,” Mr Collins continued.

“They may not be letting people take it away by the bucket load, but they do reward companies with access to data that others are denied, if they place a high value on the business they do together. This is just another form of selling.

“We remain concerned as well about Facebook’s ability to police what happens to user data when it is shared with developers, as was highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica data breach.”

Documents obtained by the New York Times claim to show that the social network allowed more than 150 companies access to user information through a variety of now-defunct features.

“Facebook’s partners don’t get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it’s wrong to suggest that they do,” said Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy Steve Satterfield in response to the report.

“Over the years, we’ve partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don’t support ourselves.

“Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party app, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partners can only offer specific Facebook features and are unable to use information for independent purposes.”