London: Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg was today summoned before a UK parliamentary committee amid a growing row over data breaches linked to the popular social media company. The summons letter to 33-year-old Zuckerberg was sent by Damian Collins, the chair of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS), which is investigating the issue of fake news.
“It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process,” the letter states.
“Given your commitment at the start of the new year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you,” it adds.
The letter has come as the UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she would be applying to court for a warrant to search the offices of Cambridge Analytica – the UK-based political consulting firm accused of using the data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
The company, which counts India among a list of numerous countries where it has done election-related work, is in the eye of a storm after its senior executives were filmed by an undercover reporter giving examples of how the firm could discredit political rivals by arranging various smear campaigns.
The reporter for ‘Channel 4 News’ posed as a Sri Lankan businessman wanting to influence a local election and was told by Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix about setting up encounters or, so-called “honeytraps”, and staging situations in which apparent bribery could be caught on camera.
Offering bribes to officials is an offence under the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica, which operates in the UK and is registered in the US, denies any wrongdoing.
“I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose,” Nix said in a statement.
The ‘Channel 4 News’ investigation, broadcast in the UK yesterday, comes two days after the ‘Observer’ newspaper reported Cambridge Analytica had gained unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles in one of the social media company’s biggest data breaches.
“Deep digging is interesting, but you know equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true, and make sure that that’s video recorded.
“You know, these sorts of tactics are very effective, instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the internet, these sorts of things,” he was recorded saying in the undercover report.
He claimed they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”, Channel 4 reported.
Nix claims the media attacks were because of his firm’s role in the successful US presidential election campaign of President Donald Trump.
Other executives from the company boasted that they, along with parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories, had worked in more than 200 elections around the world, including India, Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic and Argentina.
The recordings were made during a series of meetings at London hotels between November 2017 and January 2018.
Since reports of Cambridge Analytica using Facebook’s user information came to light, people have been urging on social media to either #DeleteFacebook or #BoycottFacebook in response.