British lawmakers: Facebook 'knowingly' violated data privacy laws
February 18 2019 10:13 AM


British lawmakers on Monday accused Facebook of ‘intentionally and knowingly’ violating data privacy and anti-competition laws as they called for social media companies to assume clear legal liabilities for content shared on their platforms.

‘Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a 'platform' and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites,’ said a major report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee released on Monday.

The committee, which reviewed a trove of internal Facebook emails, accused the tech giant of being ‘willing to override its users' privacy settings in order to transfer data to some app developers.’  The lawmakers also accused chief executive Mark Zuckerberg of showing ‘contempt’ of the British parliament by choosing not to appear before the committee nor ‘respond personally to any of our invitations.’ 

The report found that Facebook's ‘opaque’ management structure ‘seemed to be designed to conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions.’  The committee called for the establishment of a compulsory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to draw a rulebook of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours on social media.

‘The process should establish clear, legal liability for tech companies to act against agreed harmful and illegal content on their platform,’ the report said.

 The regulator should have the ability to launch legal proceedings ‘with the prospect of large fines being administered’ for non-complying companies.

Facebook has been facing calls for greater regulation amid disclosures over its privacy lapses. Those include the revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a London-based political consulting company, was able to harvest the Facebook data of up to 87 million users worldwide.

The company admitted to improperly sharing the data with the consulting firm, which used it in 2016 to support the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union as well as Donald Trump's White House bid.

 The committee, which launched its inquiry in 2017 with the promise to look into suggestions that ‘fake news’ had played a role in the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum in 2016, found that electoral law is ‘not fit for purpose and needs to be changed to reflect changes in campaigning techniques.’                      

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