By Carlo Versano
A group of international lawmakers assembled in London on Tuesday to question a high-ranking Facebook ($FB) executive about disinformation, data protection, and regulation. It did not go unnoticed that the executive was not CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Richard Allan, Facebook's vice president of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, answered inquiries from representatives of nine countries, while seated next to an empty chair left open for Zuckerberg. Early on, Allan, who is a former member of the British Parliament, admitted that the chief executive's absence was "not great."
Charlie Angus of Canada seized on Zuckerberg's absence, referring to him as part of a cohort of "frat boy billionaires from California" who have damaged global democracy.
"You have lost the trust of the international community to self-police," Angus said to Allan.
MP Ian Lucas of Britain continued the onslaught, alleging that Facebook is well-aware when data is being misused on its platform. "The only time you ever take action is when you’re found out," he said.
Allan said Facebook has created "task forces" for every national election worldwide and is scaling that to cover regional elections. "In an ideal world," the company would be able to monitor information around every election in every country, he said. "We're building it up."
But Allan also said he did not believe that tech companies like Facebook should be held legally responsible for everything that's posted on their platforms, and said it should be up to judiciaries ー not Facebook employees ー to decide what is true or false information.
The hearing was the inaugural public meeting of the "International Grand Committee on Disinformation" a body composed of parliamentarians from countries including Brazil, Belgium, and Singapore. Damian Collins, the British lawmaker who chairs the commission, had threatened to release private internal Facebook documents he obtained, and which are under seal in the U.S. as part of a lawsuit.
Collins did not ultimately release the documents during the hearing, but he appeared to reference them when he alleged that a Facebook engineer was aware of a major data breach with Russian fingerprints as early as 2014.
"An engineer at Facebook notified the company in October 2014 that entities with Russian IP addresses had been using a Pinterest API key to pull over three billion data points a day through the Ordered Friends API," Collins said.
Allan said the documents that Collins appeared to be referring to were "at best misleading." He was asked to come back with more information.