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Zuck to the UK Government - I’m still not coming to see you!

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 15, 2018
Zuck won’t be setting foot in the UK for a while, which is just as well as the UK Government is mad as hell with him!

Talking in the U.S.

Is it ignorance or arrogance? Either way, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg still doesn’t seem to realise that the UK Government is mad as hell with him and his company.

Earlier this month, the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, as part of its ongoing probe into Fake News, quizzed Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer on a range of issues, not the least of which was the ongoing scandal around data sharing and Cambridge Analytica.

Schroepfer was sent into the ring after Zuckerberg refused to appear himself, despite appearing before members of the the U.S. Congress and accepting an invitation to do the same before the European Commission at some point in the near future.

Following a rigorous session of tough questioning from UK legislators, Schroepfer was sent home with the message that he had failed to address 39 questions that the Committee wanted answers to. The Committee subsequently wrote to Facebook with those questions and with a repeated request for Zuckerberg to get on a plane pronto and appear before British government reps or risk being forcibly summoned next time he sets foot in the UK.

Facebook UK’s Rebecca Stimson, Head of Public Policy, has now written back to the Committee with answers to the 39 questions - you can read those here in all their long and dry 40 page glory - but also with a defiant message on behalf of Zuckerberg:

Facebook has now held lengthy meetings or evidence sessions around the world. In the UK we have provided written submissions to this inquiry, we have provided senior officials to give evidence to the Committee’s session in Washington, one of the most senior people in the company has given 5 hours of testimony in the UK Parliament and today we have answered the 39 further questions provided by the Committee. We were disappointed after providing a very significant amount of information to the Committee at the last hearing [that] that Committee declared our response insufficient.

Bottom line on all this from Facebook? Well, the important bit is this:

Mr Zuckerberg has no plans to meet with the committee (sic) or travel to the UK at the present.

Needless to say, this has not gone down well with the UK Government. Chair of the Committee Damian Collins MP says:

It is disappointing that a company with the resources of Facebook chooses not to provide a sufficient level of detail and transparency on various points including on Cambridge Analytica, dark ads, Facebook Connect, the amount spent by Russia on UK ads on the platform, data collection across the web, budgets for investigations, and that shows general discrepancies between Schroepfer and Zuckerberg’s respective testimonies. Given that these were follow up questions to questions Mr Schroepfer previously failed to answer, we expected both detail and data, and in a number of cases got excuses.

If Mark Zuckerberg truly recognises the ‘seriousness’ of these issues as they say they do, we would expect that he would want to appear in front of the Committee and answer questions that are of concern not only to Parliament, but Facebook’s tens of millions of users in this country. Although Facebook says Mr Zuckerberg has no plans to travel to the UK, we would also be open to taking his evidence by video link, if that would be the only way to do this during the period of our inquiry.

So, over to you Zuck.

But first, there’s one last rattle of the sabre from Collins:

For too long these companies have gone unchallenged in their business practices, and only under public pressure from this Committee and others have they begun to fully cooperate with our requests.

Oh, and those answers to the questions...the legislators aren’t happy with those either. Collins warns:

We plan to write to Facebook in the coming days with further follow up questions.

My take

I said previously that I couldn’t imagine a way in which Facebook could have more badly handled this ongoing crisis.

I shouldn’t have underestimated them.

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