British lawmakers want strict regulation of Facebook, following a devastating report published Monday that slammed the social media giant for “intentionally” breaking the law and acting like “digital gangsters.”
After an 18-month parliamentary investigation by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the 109-page document concluded that Facebook had “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.”
It also blasted CEO Mark Zuckerberg for showing “contempt” towards lawmakers, after he repeatedly failed to attend hearings related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
“Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe he is accountable to the U.K. Parliament, he is to the billions of Facebook users across the world,” Damian Collins, the committee chairman, said in a statement.
“Evidence uncovered by my Committee shows he still has questions to answer yet he’s continued to duck them, refusing to respond to our invitations directly or sending representatives who don’t have the right information.”
“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Collins added.
The text in the report was equally scathing, saying, “Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law.”
Following publication of the report, the Committee called on the government to immediately impose a compulsory code of ethics for tech companies to be overseen by an independent regulator, who would be given powers to launch legal action against anyone breaching the code.
U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said Sunday he expects to meet Zuckerberg next week to talk about regulation.
Central to the Committee’s findings was a cache of documents obtained from a small app developer called Six4Three, which is suing Facebook. The documents include internal company emails between Zuckerberg and his executives.
Facebook flatly rejects that it breached data protection and competition laws while welcoming “effective policy legislation” that would hold the company to account.
“We share the Committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence,” Karim Palant, Facebook’s U.K. public policy manager, said in an emailed statement.
The UK report comes amid a similar outcry from European regulators, who are also trying to hold the Facebook to account over its privacy practices and how it handles the spread of disinformation on its platform.
“Antitrust authorities in Europe are beginning to pay due attention to the distortion of competition caused by the exploitation of personal data by companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants,” Privacy International said in a statement Monday.
“More inquiries and eventually more remedial action is needed to address companies' abuse of power.”
While the UK probe had a broad remit, most of its focus fell on Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw the data of 87 million users improperly shared by the company.
Facebook maintains it first became aware of the scandal in Dec. 2015, shortly before the Guardian broke the story. However, Monday’s report states that three “senior managers” were involved in email exchanges earlier in 2015 concerning the breach. Facebook has not commented on this finding.
The company is also accused of “bullying” smaller tech 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,” Collins said. “The guiding principle of the ‘move fast and break things’ culture often seems to be that it is better to apologize than ask permission.”
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission is preparing to hit Facebook with a massive multi-billion dollar fine, but experts believe that without accompanying regulation similar to that in Europe, the company is unlikely to change how it works.
Cover image: Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., pauses during the Viva Technology conference in Paris, France, on Thursday, May 24, 2018. (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)