“In Rare Parliamentary Mechanism” UK Seizes Facebook Internal Docs

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

“Documents alleged to contain revelations on data and privacy controls that led to Cambridge Analytica scandal… [UK] Parliament has used its legal powers to seize internal Facebook documents in an extraordinary attempt to hold the US social media giant to account after chief executive Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to answer MPs’ questions,” the Guardian reported Saturday.


In March, The Guardian/(London’s) The Observer broke the story of the Cambridge Analytica – a Robert Mercer owned company, “and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon” – whistleblower Christopher Wylie.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”

The Guardian; March 17 2018

According to a New York Times report at the time, “the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.”

Its purpose, “to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate,” the underpinning of the Trump 2016 presidential election campaign.

In May, the Guardian then reported about leaked correspondence between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica showing that “Cambridge Analytica told Facebook almost a year before the election that it had deleted data harvested from tens of millions of Facebook users.”

But they never agreed to erase “derivatives of the data,” and Facebook failed to make them. By allowing Cambridge Analytics to maintain those derivatives, which amounts to allowing them to maintain the predictive information from what ended up being over 87 million of its users.

Zuckerberg testified (C-SPAN) in front of two US Senate committees last April, then the next day to the US House. It was discovered then he knew of the data breach in December 2015, but failed to alert users. Zuckerberg admitted that “Facebook did not secure confirmation that the models had also been deleted until April 2017.”

It was here that the public, on a larger scale, would become aware of the December 11 2015 Guardian report, which is what prompted House Rep Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to ask Zuckerberg if “Facebook had asked the company [Cambridge Analytica] to also delete derivatives of the Facebook data,” that the presidential campaign for Ted Cruz was working with Cambridge Analytica as well, and “had acquired the data of tens of millions of Facebook users from the Cambridge University psychologist Aleksandr Kogan,” and his “personality test.”

Wylie broke down the science behind what predictive derivatives are and how it was Cambridge Analytica’s “mission to transform surveys and Facebook data into a political messaging weapon,” which amounted to turning clicks into votes.

Step one, he says, over the phone as he scrambles to catch a train: “When you’re building an algorithm, you first need to create a training set.” That is: no matter what you want to use fancy data science to discover, you first need to gather the old-fashioned way. Before you can use Facebook likes to predict a person’s psychological profile, you need to get a few hundred thousand people to do a 120-question personality quiz.

Cambridge University’s academic Aleksandr Kogan working apart from the university and in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, built an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” through Kogan’s company Global Science Research (GSR) and together “hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.”

But in a scheme of “unprecedented data harvesting,” the app would also harvest the test-takers Facebook “friends,” which allowed for an “accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong.”

When Wylie agreed to testify (C-SPAN) for the US Senate Judiciary Committee on May 16 he confirmed to the committee that “he believed one of the goals of Steve Bannon while he was vice-president of Cambridge Analytica was voter suppression.”

“One of the things that provoked me to leave was discussions about ‘voter disengagement’ and the idea of targeting African Americans,” he said, noting he had seen documents referencing this.

Facebook posts were targeted at some black voters reminding them of Hillary Clinton’s 1990s description of black youths as “super predators”, in the hope it would deter them from voting.

Wylie also explained why Cambridge Analytica was testing messages such as “drain the swamp” and “build the wall” in 2014, before the Trump campaign existed.

“The company learned that there were segments of the populace that were responsive to these messages that weren’t necessarily reflected in other polling,” he said.

For more on all this background, see The Guardian’s key stories in their Cambridge Analytica Files series.

As Gizmodo sums up, this data harvesting of “Facebook friends” Facebook allowed by partnering with Cambridge Analytica, “which did U.S. election work in possible violation of laws prohibiting foreign nationals from doing so, to collect data on millions of users without their consent,” failed to, allegedly, alert users of the data breach or take any measured steps to secure and safeguard data only “until the matter exploded in a major scandal in 2018,” when the Guardian’s London Observer broke the story in March, costing Facebook “more than $100 billion in value.”


According to CNN, the British Parliament had scheduled a hearing for this upcoming Tuesday consisting of “lawmakers from seven countries” meeting for what they are calling “the Inaugural ‘International Grand Committee on Disinformation’,” and had asked Zuckerberg to attend “for months,” but he declined, nor would he make himself available via videolink, but instead would only agree to send Facebook Richard Allan who is VP of Facebook’s policy for Europe.

(In July, the Washington Post first reported the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) would fine Facebook the maximum under the law, £500,000, or $644,000 USD, in its “first fine for allowing Cambridge Analytica to improperly access data,” under their 1998 Data Protection Act. The UK has since then updated their laws on Data Protection. That fine became official in October.)

The internal documents which were seized by the UK Parliament’s member Damian Collins are part of an on-going law suit by US software company Six4Three. In an interview this past summer, CNN says, with Six4Three’s owner Ted Kramer, he reportedly told CNN, “We allege that Facebook itself is the biggest violator of data misuse in the history of the software industry.”

Via Gizmodo, according to TechCrunch, “their case essentially alleges that by enticing developers to build apps around extensive access to user data that was then unilaterally revoked, Facebook defrauded them.”

In a Business Insider report, Kramer has made “numerous other explosive allegations against Facebook,” saying that they also “accessed and monitored Android device microphones and iPhone photo albums without consent, as well as remotely activated device Bluetooth functions without consent to gain access to location data.”

The documents are a part of the legal discovery process in the Six4Three case and are under seal by the San Mateo Superior California court, and are purported to contain “confidential emails between senior [Facebook] executives,” including Zuckerberg.

The UK Parliament had called on Ted Kramer to testify in their upcoming Tuesday meeting in London. While Kramer was in London last week for work, Collins, “invoking a rare parliamentary mechanism” sent a letter to Kramer compelling him, the Observer reports, “to hand over the documents.”

In another exceptional move, parliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it’s understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.

“We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

The Observer

In an interview with the Observer, Collins said they “have very serious questions about Facebook,” alleging they have misled them “about Russian involvement on the platform,” while failing to answer questions about “who knew what, when,” about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Collins said they have been following the “court case in America and we believed these documents contained answers to some of the questions we have been seeking about the use of data, especially by external developer.”

Part of the on-going lingering questions about who knew what, and when, stem from the recent explosive New York Times investigative report published November 14 about allegations Facebook had attempted to “ignore and conceal Russian interference on its platform,” and that the company had “hired a public relations firm that dug up dirt on its critics.”

Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

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.

New York Times; Nov 14 2018

CNN Business reported in a statement from the International Committee, that the “recent New York Times investigation raises further questions about how recent data breaches were allegedly dealt within Facebook, and when the senior leadership team became aware of the breaches and the spread of Russian disinformation.”

Both Ted Kramer and Facebook have notified the California Superior court. While the files are subject of California’s court seal and protective order, meaning they cannot be shared or made public or risk being in contempt of court, Kramer was in London where the summons was issued and the UK Parliament has jurisdiction. Kramer had no choice but to comply or face fines and or possible jail.

Facebook issued a statement saying they “have asked the DCMS committee to refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook.”

According to CNN, Collins said he “was in the process of reviewing the documents, “which are clearly highly significant to the committee’s inquiry and we will be making a statement next week on how we intend to proceed.””

MP Ian Lucas who is on the same committee as Damian Collins, tweeted Saturday, “This week Facebook will learn that all are subject to the rule of law. Yes, even them.”

Damian Collins on Sunday added, under UK law they “can publish papers if we chose to.”

On A Side Note (Opinion)

I know there is a lot here, but believe me, there is more. Ha.

Most of the embedded links are somewhat redundant, but were necessary for sourcing/documenting for an overview for how the story goes.

However, if you would like to get a better handle on all the minute details, the three main ones I would recommend are:

Parliament seizes cache of Facebook internal papers; By Carole Cadwalla; The Observer

Internal documents Facebook has fought to keep private obtained by UK Parliament; By Donie O’Sullivan; CNN

*Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis; By Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg and Jack Nicas; New York Times

This account of how Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg navigated Facebook’s cascading crises, much of which has not been previously reported, is based on interviews with more than 50 people. They include current and former Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed confidentiality agreements, were not authorized to speak to reporters or feared retaliation.


“After spending much of this year apologizing for Facebook’s many missteps, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was defiant in an exclusive interview with CNN Business on Tuesday.”

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