Parliament vs Facebook -- MPs Are Playing Hardball

The tech giants -- and Facebook and Google in particular -- are being served notice, one news story at a time, that a tighter period of regulation is ahead.

Apple boss Tim Cook recently predicted this would be arriving in the US, but it is pretty clear that the UK will be taking a lead. Developments over the weekend show that the British Government is frustrated by Mark Zuckerberg failing to show to answer questions.

According to The Observer, the Culture, Media and Sports parliamentary committee has obtained papers held by a third party that is suing Facebook. The MPs have nothing to do with the court case, but were able to use parliamentary powers to have the papers seized so they could look at how internal documents regarding the social media giant and its policies and decision-making processes related to data are being shared by third-party apps.

In other words, the MPs have become so fed up with asking Mark Zuckerberg to attend a Commons committee to answer questions that they have seized court documents to try get some of the answers -- but also, no doubt, to remind Facebook that it can play proverbial "hardball" too.

The move came just after another parliamentary committee accused the tech giants of doing the minimum possible to help law enforcement agencies tackle extremism. The head of the committee was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 at the end of last week, and although he chose his words carefully, it was clear that MPs are completely frustrated by information that could help in terrorism investigations not being made available at speed to the police. 

This prompted the group of MPs from the Intelligence and Security Committee to suggest that companies boycott the social media platforms and YouTube. 

The former head of the police forces counterterrorism unit, Sir Mark Rowley, went a step further this morning by claiming that the tech giants are acting "wholly irresponsibly" and could "risk lives" by not being more helpful when approached for information about suspects. 

Then we also have a report out today that claims the tech giants are among the most non-transparent in terms of how they lobby and seek to influence British politics. 

This obviously follows MP calls for the social giants to be forced to fund an internet police force and the Chancellor vowing to bring in a Digital Services Tax.

It is hard to say which of these multiple developments will prove to be the most telling, but announcement by announcement, it is becoming clear that the Government and MPs are losing patience with the tech giants. Right now, Zuckerberg is in the crosshairs over not accepting an invitation to answer the questions, but in general, the mood is swinging against Silicon Valley. 

This column has documented the complaints that the giants suck money out of a market without appearing to pay their full share of local tax and they appear to be unable to fully control what appears on their sites and unprepared to voluntarily share extremist intelligence with law enforcement. 

The tide is turning and this weekend, I think, will be a watershed where MPs decided to seize the answers they were seeking, rather than wait for Facebook's founder to visit London. 

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