As Zuckerberg Refuses to Testify, UK Seizes Thousands of ‘Potentially Explosive’ Documents Facebook Has Tried to Keep Secret

Yves here. Zuckerberg’s woes are too much fun not to highlight.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are already in hot water thanks to a New York Times expose that Facebook conceded was correct in the news dead time of last Friday. It included bombshells like this:

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

Facebook has also failed to deflect accusations that it helped “Russia” get Trump elected and gave Cambridge Analytica millions of user profiles. Marina Bart explained long form why Cambridge Analytica’s claims about its manipulative powers were bunkum. But we the great unwashed public should be delighted that its marketing hype is being treated seriously as grounds for making Facebook ‘splain itself.

By Jake Johnson, a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep. Originally published at Common Dreams

After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to testify at a joint hearing with lawmakers from seven nations over his company’s invasive privacy practices, the U.K. Parliament on Saturday legally seized thousands of secret and “potentially explosive” Facebook documents in what was described as an extraordinary move to uncover information about the company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica data-mining scandal.

According to the Guardian, the documents were initially obtained during a legal discovery process by the now-defunct U.S. software company Six4Three, which is currently suing Facebook.

Conservative MP Damian Collins, the Guardianreports, then “invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism” that compelled Six4Three’s founder—who was on a business trip in London—to hand over the documents, which reportedly “contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is claimed they include confidential emails between senior executives, and correspondence with Zuckerberg.”

“This week Facebook is going to learn the hard way that it is not above the law. In ignoring the inquiries of seven national parliaments, Mark Zuckerberg brought this escalation upon himself, as there was no other way to get this critical information,” wrote Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who was previously the director of research at Cambridge Analytica.

“The irony is… Mark Zuckerberg must be pretty pissed that his data was seized without him knowing,” Wylie added.

The U.K. Parliament’s seizure of documents Facebook has long worked to keep hidden from the public view comes as the social media behemoth is embroiled in yet another scandal, this time over its use of a right-wing public relations firm to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about its critics.

“Facebook will learn that all are subject to the rule of law,” Labour MP Ian Lucas wroteon Twitter. “Yes, even them.”

Addendum: The delicious part is that Parliament has the power to release the documents and is clearly inclined to, and Facebook is reduced to begging and trying to get a US judge to help…as if that will move the MPs. From the Financial Times:

Damian Collins, chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, told the Financial Times that “very important and very relevant” documents had been obtained from the founder of Six4Three, a US app developer, who was on a business trip in London last week.

Mr Collins issued an order to compel the businessman, Ted Kramer, to hand over the documents and the serjeant at arms — an officer responsible for security at Westminster — was sent to his hotel to ensure he complied. The app developer was in possession of internal Facebook documents, some from senior executives, regarding its data policies…

The showdown is an unusual deployment for the serjeant at arms, whose job includes a daily parliamentary procession carrying a silver-gilt mace….

“The process of getting information out of Facebook has been painful,” said Mr Collins…

The stand-off between parliament and Facebook comes one month after the social network appointed Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, as head of global affairs and communications.

It also comes as Six4Three compiles evidence against Facebook in preparation for litigation. The documents have been sealed by a judge in California so cannot be released and any attempt to do so would be deemed to be in contempt of court.

Mr Collins said, however, that his committee, which will meet on Tuesday, has the power to publish the documents under parliamentary privilege if it chooses to do so.

The Six4Three case has little to do with the subject of fake news but could shed light on Facebook’s policies at the time that the data of tens of millions of Facebook users was accessed and then used by Cambridge Analytica…

Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice-president of policy solutions, wrote to Mr Collins on Sunday. “The court that sealed the documents is due to consider these latest developments as early as tomorrow. It will be helpful for all of us to see Six4Three’s explanation and any directions given by the judge in this case as we consider their legal status,” he said in a letter seen by the Financial Times.

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    1. perpetualWAR

      Well, we shall see if anything really “happens” to them. If the “rule of law” in the UK is anything like ours, Facebook will thrive.

  1. Kurt Sperry

    Large supranational tech companies in the business of collecting and selling the private data of users across sovereign borders are clearly a threat to the territorial and jurisdictional integrity of the nations they operate in. Social media clearly serve a perceived need and are deemed useful by their users, but I’m coming to the conclusion they should either be run as subsidized, transparent public utilities or regulated to such an extent that they are in all but name.

    1. Ignacio

      Large supranational financial companies in the business of getting everyone indebted across sovereign borders are clearly a threat to the territorial and jurisdictional integrity of nations they operate. Banks clearly serve a perceived need and are deemed useful by their users, but I’m coming to the conclusion they should either be run as subsidized, transparent public utilities or regulated to such an extent that they are in all but name.

      Not at all ;)

      1. EoH

        Large supranational tech company that makes billions secretly abusing the data privacy of consumers screams bloody murder when some of its own data is obtained through legal means by a government powerful enough to investigate and publish it. That’s an anomaly in the neoliberal landscape. Expect Mr. Zuckerberg to call in the gardeners to clear-cut it.

        Mr. Zuckerberg’s acclaimed view that his customers are “Dumb f**ks” remains true. But he will be the last to repeat it, or to remind his customers that when a service is “free”, they become the product, paying an unknown cost to make him fabulously wealthy.

        1. Scott1

          Facebook wants to tell you what to do. They want you to pay them one way or another. “Boost this Post” -20 dollars.
          We know what can happen when governments gone bad can find you.
          What Facebook is good for is keeping up with family & friends. It is not a dating site, which is great.
          I had to begin using it if I wanted to know what was up with my daughter. She
          doesn’t answer an email. What makes it great makes it dangerous.

      2. Dave Chapman

        Regarding Banks as a Regulated Utility:

        I thought that’s the system America had between 1937 and 1996. Do you remember the 5-8-3 Club?

        Many people would argue that the banking system in the 1950s and 1960s was, in fact “regulated to such an extent that they are in all but name. . .utilities”.

  2. lyman alpha blob

    But we the great unwashed public should be delighted that its marketing hype is being treated seriously as grounds for making Facebook ‘splain itself.

    IIRC Facebook initially denied that they could find anything on their website that may have “influenced the election” which was likely the actual truth. Then Mark Warner made a trip to FB to help them get their minds right and it was only then that they came up with the rainbow Bernie ads and the like that we are supposed to believe swung the election.

    IMO, that trip served a dual purpose for the Democrat party – it helped them launch the Russia, Russia, Russia narrative and stuck a fork in Zuckerberg’s presidential ambitions at the same time.

    1. Anarcissie

      On the other hand the Russia fables make Facebook look terribly powerful, which could be expected to attract advertising money. In fact there is no evidence that even a single vote was affected one way or the other.

  3. Tim

    Question for the NC community: leaving aside the ethics and legality for a moment, does all of the personal data collection and targeted adds actually result in materially changeing what or where people buy things? Maybe I am oblivious to how I am being manipulated but it seems like Facebook’s business model is absurd and ineffective on top of it being distasteful at best.

      1. Anarcissie

        Advertising does not have to sell a product. All it has to sell is itself, to the person who pays for it.

        1. Stephen Gardner

          Yes, but I believe the comment was meant to question whether advertising is effective not whether it could be sold to desperate and clueless executives. Sooner or later the truth will out.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The manipulation is more from the echo chamber and the bludgeon of noise. So its not a picture of a semi-nude, rainbow Bernie Sanders, but portraying itself as a news source creates the illusion the often misleading stories from MSM sources are relevant or put into context as they are shared by the gullible in a more genuine role.

      As far as advertising, I still think its largely a joke that attracted stupid money interested in high returns as tech innovation has run out of steam.

    2. Summer

      You are an adult. We find out in the next years more of the cumalative effects.

      Just now starting to have some of the first young adults who were raised on this BS.

      It’s always been about the future generations.

      1. ambrit

        True. The average attention span of the younger cohort I see “on the street” is abysmal. Inter-personal interactions, at least in public, are much less than seen in previous generations.
        The social definitions of “personal,” “local,” and “global” are being rewritten.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Blaming FB and phones is somewhat absurd when society has been one steady drum beat of fear mongering and a decayed economy, who wants to discuss their gofundme page to pay for their healthcare bills.

          The lack of personal interaction has been observed in societies suffering from the same problems we have before Snapface or Mybook (Belichick is definitely messing with us.).

    3. lyman alpha blob

      Google’s own research has shown that the majority of internet ads are never seen by a human being, but someone is paying to have them run anyway. That would seem to indicate that FB and the like are grossly overcharging the rubes for their overhyped services.

    4. Ignacio

      does all of the personal data collection and targeted adds actually result in materially changeing what or where people buy things?

      What or where people buys, what or where people gets their information, what or where third parties can use the info for other purposes, for instance, political. Not to mention that Facebook can label you as anti-semitic because, you know, they don’t like you anymore.

    5. fajensen

      I think it is working.

      At least in the sense of driving a narrative and making that narrative becoming “main stream” – obviously much more main stream that it actually is – because all people working with politics, people of power & influence, journalists and corporations all have their Social Media Experts trawling those lower intestines of the Internet that Social Media has become. To find out what “the people are really thinking”!

    6. Anders K

      I seem to have lost my previous comment, so I’ll be brief.

      Not in the sense that a particular ad leads a particular user to buy a product – to be exact, a product they had not intended to buy prior to seeing the ad. However, nudging the user into the direction of that product when considering the category probably works, at least a little, but has to overcome existing “relationships” between the user and prior bought products.

      For instance, I have bought toothpaste while influenced by an ad – I remembered seeing an ad for a particular toothpaste brand, and bought that one. I would not have bought toothpaste if I had not needed it, or if I had a commitment to buying a specific brand. Recently a family member (with similar dental situation / mouth pH / plaque/tartar etc) mentioned that they had gained good results with another brand, whereupon I started buying that brand (and noticing slight improvements, such as reduced tartar).

      As has been known for a long time, while ads “work” when viewed, mouth-to-mouth advertising provides a much heftier impact. This is why ad companies have been trying to get “influencers” (previously known as celebrities) to promote their products using product placement of different kinds. I expect that sort of thing to become even more used in the future, especially once social sites begin to share (parts of) their data with advertisers as the rose-tinted view of “it’s on the internet so it must be good to pay for it without knowing what’s going to happen” runs its course.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Zuckerberg gets hauled up before a Congressional hearing and as a result has to let people like the Atlantic Council be his fact-checkers in order to get them off his back. I wonder what the British will want in order to lay off him as well. Certainly this is no fight for justice and they seem to have him by the short and curlies. I think that Zuckerberg will be surprised to learn that the Superior Court of the California County of San Matteo does not, in fact, have jurisdiction in the City of London so cannot stop those papers being published. Expect lots of behind the scenes negotiations.

  5. Polar Donkey

    Are Zuckerberg and Sanberg unaware they are jewish? I understand trying to cover your a#&, but using anti-semites. That is serious villainy.

  6. Jus Askin

    How did the docs become available? Were they in briefcase, on a thumbdrive, and if so why were they brought to London? And finally, how did Parliment know they were there for the grabbing?

    1. fajensen

      One could speculate that either GCHQ or the USA’s TLA’s have probably tagged several persons “the authorities wanted a quiet word with”.

      When one of them enters the UK, the details pop up in the operations room and they send the boys round to explain things – like the law: “Of course you don’t have to give up your right to not tell us your login details; In return for protecting your rights, we won’t have to let you out of custody until you do”!

      The interesting part is this: If Six4Three is like my workplace, they will likely have thousands of files stored in some kind of PLM / Document management system where they can get them when needed (and this is invariably logged). They don’t carry anything around except “public stuff” – presentations and sales material. Contracts above a certain value are usually signed physically, one party will travel to the place where the physical paper is located to sign. Business PLM systems are universally reviled garbage, it is hard to find anything even with the proper access. So, Somebody did a lot of homework!

      Since “they” apparently knew pretty well what to ask for and who to ask, it is likely that they already obtained a copy of everything Six4Three has and summarised it, only, “their” version “does not exist”. It is (likely) not obtained following a legal process, which means “they” cannot use it for legal proceedings.

      This they can do now, having obtained the information through the proper process!

  7. ewmayer

    Re. the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I find it telling that more or less the same kind of social-graph-hoovering and contact-targeting as used by Team Obama 2012 was, and still is, being treated by the MSM and the establishment fact-checkers, as a giant nothingburger. The above-linked Politifact page gives useful background but then engages in hair-splitting in order to try to differentiate between the ethics of the two usage instances.

    But agree that despite such double standards, the real issue is the data collection and the abuses it permits, so kudos to the UK parliament for showing some backbone here.

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