The New Gatekeepers

British MPs say they may try to compel Zuckerberg to testify

April 26, 2018

Britain failed in its attempts to get Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to come and testify before a committee looking into the problem of fake news and user privacy following the Cambridge Analytica leak, but it seems the British parliament hasn’t given up quite yet. Damian Collins, the head of the parliamentary committee on digital culture and the media, suggested in a news release following the hearing on Thursday that Zuckerberg could be compelled to testify in Britain if he enters the UK on his way to a similar hearing being held by the European Union. Collins said:

We believe that, given the large number of outstanding questions for Facebook to answer, Mark Zuckerberg should still appear in front of the Committee. We note, in particular, reports that he intends to travel to Europe in May to give evidence to the European Parliament. As an American citizen living in California, Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, but he will the next time he enters the country. We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear.

Collins also tried to get a dig in right out of the gate in his questioning of Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer on Thursday, by asking him how much he planned to spend on his next car and the square footage of his house (Schroepfer said he didn’t know the answer to either question).

This was similar to the tactic used by US senator Dick Durbin when Zuckerberg appeared before Congress earlier this month to testify on matters related to the Cambridge Analytica leak—Durbin asked whether Zuckerberg could tell the committee what hotel he was staying at, and Zuckerberg said he would rather not. The obvious implication being, of course, that there are certain kinds of private information that even Facebook execs don’t want to reveal.

Apart from these attempts at theatrics, the British hearing appeared to be almost five hours of Schroepfer avoiding most of the questions that were asked of him about the Cambridge Analytica leak, and MPs taking the company to task for its cavalier approach to user privacy. According to a statement from British parliament, most of the MPs found Schroepfer’s responses to be “unsatisfactory,” and he failed to answer a number of crucial questions, including:

  • Whether Facebook knew about Cambridge Analytica when Facebook gave evidence to the parliamentary committee on February 8th
  • How much money was made and kept from dark ads, and whether there is any archive or record kept by Facebook of dark ads
  • Whether an individual can block all categories of ads
  • Why they moved one and a half billion accounts to Facebook Inc from Facebook Ireland a month before the GDPR came into force
  • Whether Facebook uses the data of individuals who are not on Facebook
  • What changes they are about to make ahead of GDPR in terms of becoming fully compliant
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Schroepfer admitted that Facebook did not read the terms and conditions of the app that provided the personal data on more than 85 million users that Cambridge Analytica wound up using for targeted political advertising during the US election. And he said he regretted that Facebook sent a letter threatening The Guardian with legal action before its exposé on the Cambridge Analytica affair ran, saying he understood the letter was designed “just to correct the facts.”

Schroepfer did provide at least one positive note for MPs: The Facebook executive promised that the company will make sure that only verified accounts will be allowed to place political ads on its platform, and that all of those ads will be vetted in time for elections in England and Northern Ireland next year. Also, Schroepfer said that users will be able to view all of the promotions paid for by a campaign, not just those targeted at them.

Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.