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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

International coalition to quiz Facebook over data misuse

Group formed after Mark Zuckerberg twice refused to appear before MPs in the UK

Facebook faces fresh scrutiny this week from an international panel of lawmakers. Reuters
Facebook faces fresh scrutiny this week from an international panel of lawmakers. Reuters

Lawmakers from seven countries will question a senior Facebook official on Tuesday in a sprawling fake news and disinformation inquiry linked to the illicit harvesting of data from the social media giant.

The first hearing of an “international grand committee” sits on Tuesday in London with MPs demanding answers from senior Facebook executive Richard Allan over the company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Tensions between the MPs and the company have risen since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg twice refused an invitation to attend the meeting or answer questions via video link.

It emerged at the weekend that UK MPs employed little-used legal powers to seize documents thought to contain emails from senior company officials including Mr Zuckerberg.

The UK parliamentary committee investigating ‘fake news’ compelled the founder of a software company to hand over documents linked to a legal dispute the company has with Facebook in the United States. The company official was escorted to parliament when he initially refused to hand over the documents, according to the Observer newspaper.

“This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation,” Damian Collins, the chairman of the committee investigating so-called fake news, told the newspaper. “We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

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Facebook has called on the committee not to use information from the documents and return them to the company, saying they were restricted from publication by a US court order.

The MPs believe the data could give details on how company executives had previously handled user data and provide insight into the later scandal involving Cambridge Analytica.

The committee has previously questioned whistle blowers and senior officials at Cambridge Analytica, the company that harvested data from millions of Facebook profiles without the consent of the users as part of attempts to predict voter behaviour.

Mr Collins gave no sign of acceding to the company’s request. “More next week – parliament seizes cache of Facebook internal papers,” he wrote in a tweet on Sunday.

The revelations over Cambridge Analytica in March sparked a sharp downturn in its share price. After a tumultuous year, Facebook stock has returned to levels last seen in February 2017.

The seven countries banded together after the refusal of Mr Zuckerberg to appear before UK and Canadian lawmakers. He appeared before Congress and later European parliamentarians when Facebook was allowed to set the ground rules for the session as a condition of his attendance.

The MPs – from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore, and UK – are expected to quiz Mr Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions, on different national issues including the failure to police violent content, the influencing of elections and cyberattacks.