DAMIAN COLLINS, the chair of Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport committee - has clearly had enough of being ignored, and isn't prepared to take it any more. Mark Zuckerberg's strategy of ghosting the Commons after flying visits to Congress and the EU parliament could backfire for Facebook in a hugely damaging way, after Collins used an obscure parliamentary mechanism to compel a third-party company to hand over confidential documents when on UK soil.
As The Observer revealed, the founder of US software company Six4Three was confronted by a serjeant at arms at his hotel with a final warning to hand over documents and a two-hour deadline in which to comply. When the deadline elapsed, he was apparently escorted to parliament where he was informed that fines and imprisonment could follow.
That's quite a step up from the nagging letters Zuckerberg was presumably feeding to his shredder.
Why would a slightly obscure company with a stylistically silly name interest parliament? Well, Six4Three has previously taken legal action against Facebook after the social network shut down access to its friend data API in 2015.
The company, which had apparently put more than $250,000 into its Facebook app, alleged that its correspondences with the social network show that the company was offering the kind of access that eventually exploded with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. When Facebook shut down the friend data API, Six4Three felt that developers had been misled about the kind of data they could expect access to.
Back in May, Six4Three's lawyers claimed that the evidence the company held proved that "the Cambridge Analytica scandal was not the result of mere negligence on Facebook's part but was rather the direct consequence of the malicious and fraudulent scheme Zuckerberg designed in 2012 to cover up his failure to anticipate the world's transition to smartphones." Crikey.
With such bold claims on record, it's no surprise that the private correspondences between Facebook and the company would be of great interest to Collins and other MPs - as well as governments around the world if they end up contradicting what Zuckerberg said publically in his Cambridge Analytica apology tour.
Because the seizing of the documentation was so unorthodox, it's difficult to know what happens next. Damian Collins even conceded this, telling The Observer that this is "uncharted territory." He continued: "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."
Facebook, as you might imagine, isn't happy about this. And a company that's worth over $500bn dollars has lawyers to huff and puff both loudly and aggressively.
"The materials obtained by the DCMS committee are subject to a protective order of the San Mateo Superior Court restricting their disclosure," the company said menacingly. "We have asked the DCMS committee to refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook. We have no further comment."
But as Collins said, this really is uncharted territory, and it's not at all clear what a Californian court can do to stop MPs having a butchers, so things could get very messy very quickly. "More next week," Collins tweeted with a link to The Observer's scoop.
After getting frustrated by Facebook's unresponsiveness over the last few months, Collins might suddenly find the company very keen to talk. µ
Rare protest is blocked at the source (code)
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