When did you give Facebook consent to share intimate details of your life with the rest of the world? To have your birthday shared with third-party apps, you political leanings shared with advertisers (and Russian fake news purveyors?) When you signed up, a firm executive said today during a testy hearing in London today before Europe’s “International Grand Committee” investigating Facebook abuses.
“It’s right there in the name…social,” said Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy solutions. Users are obviously signing up for a social experience, said Allan, speaking instead of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who declined to attend. An empty seat was laid out for the CEO.
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, vice chair of the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics in the lower house of Canada’s parliament, quizzed Allan hard on the notion of meaningful consent,” required by Canadian law. Allan said consumers click on a user agreement when they sign up for Facebook, giving the firm permission to share user data.
The response drew muted chuckles in the room, packed with representatives from Britain, Canada, France, Belgium, Brazil, Ireland, Latvia, Argentina and Singapore.
“This has generally been Facebook’s answer to questions about its post-consent decree privacy practices. But rarely so directly,” wrote New York Times reporter Nick Confessore.
The hearings are the latest hurdle for Facebook as it tries to move past the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the social media giant share a treasure trove of personal information with a data analytics firm tied to both the Brexit and the Donald Trump political campaigns.
Earlier this week, a member of the U.K. parliament announced he had used extraordinary legal power to seize internal Facebook documents tied to an unrelated lawsuit. The documents were not released at the hearing, but the member, Damion Collins, referenced them during questioning. Collins implied the documents show Facebook had advance warning that Russians were sucking massive amounts of data off the firm’s website.
“An engineer at Facebook notified the company in October 2014 that entities with Russian IP have been using a Pinterest API key to pull over 3 billion data points a day,” he said.
Allan responded by saying that he wasn’t in a position to respond to claims in the seized documents, but warned anything gleaned from them was “at best partial and at worst misleading.” You can watch the exchange here on Twitter.
Facebook later told CNN “the engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity.”
Allan warned that he planned to release the emails publicly next week.