Facebook Canada offers closed-door briefings to MPs ahead of meeting by Alex Boutilier
Apr 16, 2018
Source: Toronto Star
Facebook Canada is offering closed-door briefings to MPs tasked with publicly grilling the company later this week over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Star has learned.
An email obtained by the Star from Facebook Canada’s public policy team invited members of the House of Commons’ Ethics committee to meet privately with the company before their public testimony on Thursday.
New Democrat ethics critic Charlie Angus called the offer highly unusual, and said in 14 years in parliament he’s never seen a major corporation attempt to meet with committee members on the eve of testifying.
“It speaks to, I think, Facebook’s disregard as a massive international corporation lobbying various governments on major policy,” Angus said in an interview Monday.
“This is an attempt to hear our concerns so they’re better prepared for television, and perhaps, outside of the view of the public, kind of win us over. That’s not how committee work is supposed to be done.”
The omnipresent social media company has been on the defensive for weeks after revelations that 87 million users had their data unknowingly harvested, including more than 622,000 Canadian users. That personal information was then used by consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to attempt to help political campaigns to sway the vote, including the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the Brexit referendum.
“We would like to extend to you a courtesy pre-brief on the Cambridge Analytica situation,” reads the email from Facebook Canada public policy associate Jessica Smith. “Should this be of interest, please let us know and we will work with your office to schedule a briefing.”
The Star requested an interview with Facebook’s Smith Monday afternoon, and sent a detailed list of questions. A public relations officer replied to say Smith was not available. Instead, the company sent a brief statement that did not directly address the Star’s questions.
“Facebook has made a number of recent public announcements to address concerns the situation with Cambridge Analytica has raised, including on data security, ads, and … transparency and election security,” wrote Facebook spokesperson Meg Sinclair in an email.
“In advance of this week’s hearing, we have extended an offer to brief committee members on those steps as well as what we know as our reviews of the situation continue. No new information will be shared.”
The House of Commons’ Access to Information and Ethics committee is scheduled to begin at least two weeks of hearings into the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal on Tuesday. Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien, who has begun a formal investigation into Facebook, is scheduled to be the committee’s first witness. Kevin Chan, the head of Facebook Canada, is scheduled to testify on Thursday.
The committee is following their counterparts in the U.K. and the U.S. in demanding the company divulge more information about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and more broadly the company’s handling of users’ personal information.
Cambridge Analytica allegedly obtained the personal data of more than 80 million Facebook users, predominantly in the United States, through a third-party researcher. That researcher was able to harvest the data through a personality quiz app, that collected information not only about those users that took the quiz, but their extended social network — meaning people’s data may have been collected and sold without their consent or even knowledge.
Facebook began notifying those users whose data was compromised last week, including more than 622,000 Canadians.
The scandal has led to formal investigations by privacy watchdogs in Canada and the U.K., as well as the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. Testifying before Congress last week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he believes that government regulation of the company is inevitable.