MPs vs Zuckerberg: It's So On

Parliament vs Facebook. It's the big box-office hit of Q4.

All we need now is that loud boxing announcer to take a minute to hang on every syllable in the names of the two pugilists. In one corner we have Damian Collins, chair of the Department of Culture Media and Sport parliamentary committee and in the other, Mark Zuckerberg.

The matter at hand revolves around whether Facebook is getting up to any skullduggery around its handling of user data, and of course, Zuckerberg's repeated no-shows to answer MPs' questions, resulting in him being empty-chaired at last month's hearing. 

Damian Collins has shown that revenge is a dish best served cold after obtaining documents that had been set aside in the US for a legal case. In an MP's hands, he was able to discuss and then publish them, although Facebook urged him not to. The result is a stream of hard-hitting headlines and a denial of wrongdoing by Facebook.

The crux of the issue is whether Facebook allowed third parties to extend data collection on users to include details about their friends. It was this kind of profiling that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and according to Facebook, was banned as far back as 2015. 



For me, The Guardian headline is the most accurate headline and story, showing that Facebook "discussed" the issues around access to user data. Mark Zuckerberg has addressed the accusations directly on his Facebook account, saying the published documents have been taken out of context and used selectively to imply wrongdoing when the 2015 changes to the platform were being discussed internally. He repeats Facebook's official line that no user data has been sold on to advertisers. 

At worst, what we have here is a bunch of embarrassing documents that show whitelisting of big apps from big spending companies, such as Airbnb and Netflix, to allow data access was being considered.

If it were proven to have taken place, post 2015, we would be in a very different scenario. There appears to be a lot of discussion around what Facebook was considering for its platform, but no smoking gun regarding actually selling off data. 

We end up with an accusation from Damian Collins against Facebook, based on documents from three to four years ago, and then a denial from Facebook. Either side could ultimately be right, but it's hard to know for sure right now.

We can all have our suspicions about how Facebook uses our data, but there is no proof that it has done anything wrong. We don't have a Cambridge Analytica scandal post 2015. 

So let's forget the accusations for a moment and hone in on the real issue here. Damian Collins and his committee of MPs are going toe-to-toe with Facebook. They have moved beyond embarrassing Mark Zuckerberg for not turning up to publishing internal documents they hope will embarrass him further. 

The real story here is that a group of MPs have crossed the Rubicon and there's no going back as they seek to show wrongdoing that is denied.

It's going to be a fascinating one to watch as 2019 unfolds. 

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