UK government report likens Facebook to “digital gangsters”

The committee has been investigating Facebook for 18 months and has voiced its frustration about CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s lack of cooperation on multiple occasions. A number of international lawmakers supported their UK colleagues and urged Zuckerberg to testify, but he refused.

The report says Facebook considered itself “above the law” as it obstructed the inquiry and repeatedly failed to take appropriate action to prevent Russian interference in foreign elections.

Facebook described as a threat to democracy

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” said Damian Collins, Chair of the Committee.

“Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.

“The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights.

“Companies like Facebook exercise massive market power which enables them to make money by bullying the smaller technology companies and developers who rely on this platform to reach their customers.

“These are issues that the major tech companies are well aware of, yet continually fail to address.”

Report recommends legislative change to reign in Facebook

The damning report made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of a Compulsory Code of Ethics for tech companies. This would be overseen by an independent regulator which has the power to launch legal action against companies violating the code.

Current laws are “unfit for purpose” according to the report, which says legislative change is urgently needed to ensure overseas involvement in UK elections is curbed.

The report also recommends that social media companies be required to block known sources of disinformation from their platforms.

The UK’s opposition party, Labour, immediately endorsed the committee’s report. Deputy Leader Tom Watson said: “the era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately.”

The committee sought evidence from Facebook, both orally and through written requests, about the company’s knowledge of malicious Russian actors placing advertisements that appeared online during the 2016 US presidential campaign. Two senior executives from the company were questioned on the issue but the report’s authors were not satisfied with their responses, writing that they had either “deliberately misled the Committee” or had been kept ignorant about the extent of Russian interference by senior figures at Facebook.

Facebook slammed for not addressing privacy concerns

The report also criticised Facebook’s record on user privacy in the strongest terms.

Back in 2011, Facebook was forced into a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after it misled consumers by making information that was supposed to be private available to the public. The new report says that Facebook flouted this agreement and if it had abided by the terms it agreed to, the infamous Cambridge Analytica privacy breach would not have happened.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Zuckerberg was grilled at congressional hearings and saw the share price of Facebook go into freefall. The company has been resurgent in recent times, however, and Zuckerberg remains one of the world’s wealthiest people.

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