Published: Fri, November 30, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

Facebook was warned of Russian data harvesting in 2014, says MP

Facebook was warned of Russian data harvesting in 2014, says MP

Facebook Inc. knew that Russian-linked entities were using a feature on the social network that let advertisers harvest large amounts of data as early as October 2014, according to an internal email a United Kingdom lawmaker said he had reviewed.

Damian Collins, head of a committee of British lawmakers investigating the impact of fake news, said he had reviewed an email from a Facebook engineer highlighting suspicious Russian-linked data harvesting on Facebook two years before that.

Facebook has stumbled from one mess to another this year as it grapples with continuing fallout from Russia's use of the platform to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which user data was harnessed in a bid to help candidate Donald Trump, and a huge security breach involving millions of accounts.

Zuckerberg's absence from the hearing, having turned down several invitations to appear before the worldwide committee, was noted by an empty chair with Allan answering questions in his stead. The committee wasn't thrilled, and much as when US lawmakers left an empty chair for Google CEO Larry Page to highlight his absence from a Congressional hearing, it placed a vacant seat at the table along with a name placard on the table for where Zuckerberg was supposed to be.

A picture of the vacant chair was posted on the Twitter page of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the group of British MPs leading the probe.

Collins' committee obtained the email after it compelled the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over a large cache of documents during a business trip to London. But he said Tuesday he would not release the documents during the hearing.

"What we're regulating. are the symptoms", said Angus, vice chairman of the House of Commons' standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics.

Collins said he hoped to publish the documents in the coming week.

When Angus suggested that the world might benefit from the introduction of antitrust regulation against Facebook, Allan pushed back.

Allan said there have been a "number of actions taken" against developers but added, "I don't have in front of me today all of the answers to all of the questions".

Another Canadian representative, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, called Zuckerberg's absence "incredibly unfortunate" and said it spoke to a "failure to account for the loss of trust" across the globe.

The materials came from Six4Three, an app company that has sued Facebook in California for changes to its policies in 2015 that limited its ability to access data it needed to function.

"We are not asking you to be flawless", Angus said. The committee used its powers to force Theodore Kramer, chief executive of Six4Three, the company behind the photo app, who was on a business trip to London, to turn over the files. Canada is continuing to investigate data breaches of personal information of more than 600,000 Canadian users.

Allan, attempting to get ahead of the story, told the committee it would be unfair to take the "internal conversations" and "robust comments" as the company's official position.

Significantly, Singapore's Edwin Tong also questioned Allan on Facebook's policies on hate speech and removing content that attacks people on "race, religion, and ethnicity".

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