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Zuckerberg kow-tows to US Congress but snubs UK government


via Flickr © jdlasica (CC BY 2.0)

  • Facebook CEO will testify on Capitol Hill...
  • … but won't give evidence in Houses of Parliament
  • Angry users awaiting the day the circus comes to town
  • Facebook lawyers previously "dodged questions"

Mark Zuckerberg's name is mud in Whitehall after refusing to attend in person to give evidence before a UK parliamentary committee investigating data breaches, invasions of privacy, Facebook's links with Cambridge Analytica and the promulgation of fake news.

It is the third time that the hoodie-in-chief has declined to testify to the British Parliament. It's different of the other side of the Atlantic though and he will deign to testify before the House of Representatives Commerce and Energy Committee. The boy knows where the power lies and on which side his bread is buttered. That's why he'll tug his forelock on Capitol Hill but feels free to flip the bird to Whitehall with impunity.

The chairman of the UK Parliamentary Committee, Damian Collins, says it is now a matter of urgency that Zuckerberg gives evidence in person after oral testimony from the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, lifted the stone to shine light on the slimy creatures wriggling beneath it.

Mr. Collins said, "Given the extraordinary evidence we have heard so far, it is absolutely astonishing that Mark Zuckerberg is not prepared to submit himself for questioning in front of a parliamentary hearing given these are questions of fundamental importance and concern to his users as well as to this enquiry. I urge him to think again if he if he has any care of concern for people that use his company's services." People will come to their own conclusions when a so far unnamed Facebook minion turns up to take the flak for the boss.

This is from Facebook's Head of Public Policy, Rebecca Stimson. "Facebook fully recognises the levels of public and parliamentary interest in these issues and supports the belief that  they must be addressed at the most senior levels of the company by those in an authoritative position to answer your questions." Wonder who'll be sent? Perhaps it'll be a janitor, or perhaps even a janitor's supervisor if the company decides to take things really seriously.

Giving testimony to the House of Commons committee yesterday, Christopher Wylie said that Facebook must have been well aware very much earlier than the company claims to have been of the mass data-harvesting routinely being undertaken by Cambridge Analytica's partner, GSR.

Whistleblower Wylie said, "I remember it was in July 2014 [when GSR's founder Aleksandr Kogan] was delayed for a couple of days because Facebook had throttled the app so that it couldn't pull as much data, or there was some problem with pulling the data at the same speed as before. He [Kogan] told me he had had a conversation with some engineers at Facebook, so Facebook would have known from that moment." In the event  Facebook took no action on the data-harvesting until 2015.

Mr. Zuckerberg might go to Washington but he's no Jimmy Stewart

Word has it that the Facebook founder and CEO will testify at a congressional hearing next month. All we currently know about Zuckeberg's appearance comes from Elena Hernandez, the spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She says, "The committee is continuing to work with Facebook to determine a day and time for Mr. Zuckerberg to testify.”

Appearances by Silicon Valley demigods before such Committees are infrequent and accompanied by blanket news coverage and a frenzied three-ring media circus, so this one should be a doozy. Indeed, it should be a hell of a spectacle as Zuckerberg's testimony will be given as the anger of Facebook users continues to mount and and calls for regulation and legislation of social media sites and platforms and the clipping of the wings of technology companies and their overweening and over-powerful senior executives grow louder and more strident.

And it's not just the House Energy and Commerce Committee that wants to interrogate Facebook's founder. On Monday, the powerful Federal Trade Commission confirmed that it too is investigating how Facebook collects and manipulates data about its users. Individual politicians are having a pop as well. For example,  Senator John Kennedy, a Republican representing Louisiana, says Mark Zuckerberg should be made "to directly answer questions from Congress about what kind of user data is being gathered and shared, because Facebook has been far too vague about its practices. He said that the Facebook lawyers who testified about Russian involvement in the 2016 election had “dodged questions.” He added, “They didn’t say a damn thing, which was what they were paid to do. I encourage Mr. Zuckerberg to do the common-sense thing and roll up his sleeves and take a meaningful amount of time talking to us about this.”

Good luck with that. Let us remember that way back in 2010 Mark Zuckerberg, in an interview with The Washington Post, admitted that users wanted and needed simpler controls over their private data that would be easy to use. They also wanted to be able personally to verify that their the changes they made had been carried out. Eight years on nothing seems to have changed, indeed things have got worse. Recycled statements of contrition and the trotting out the same old tired cliches and promises just won't do it any more. Regulation needs to legislatively imposed on social media companies together with a tariff of exemplary punishments for those that continue to abuse their power.

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