Facebook misses MPs deadline to answer data privacy questions

Houses of Parliament

Facebook has failed to answer privacy questions posed to the social network within the time frame set by British MPs, who want to hold the company accountable for the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.

MPs from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee asked that Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer answer 39 questions relating to the enquiry into how Cambridge Analytica was able to target Facebook users that had not given permission with personalised political adverts.

Questions presented to Schroepfer include the percentage of sites on the internet that track the activity of Facebook users, if and how Cambridge Analytica used custom audiences, how Facebook categorises political ads, how many developers Facebook investigated into between 2011 and 2014, who was responsible for taking the decision not to tell users affected by the scandal and when Mark Zuckerberg was made aware of the situation.

The social media network has now asked for an extension until lunchtime today to answer the questions, as it felt ten days wasn't enough time to form an adequate defence.

"The Committee wrote to Facebook on 1 May seeking answers to 39 separate, outstanding questions by the 11 May after its Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer gave evidence," Parliament wrote in a statement.

"Facebook has since told the Committee that it will respond to these questions, including a response to Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before the Committee, by 12 noon on Monday 14 May."

In the same statement, Parliament has requested Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica and former campaign director of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings appear before the DCMS Committee to give evidence. Both have so far refused to give their side of the story to MPs.

"The Committee has made entirely reasonable requests of both witnesses, issuing invitations over a period of time, with clear reasons put forward for why it would like to speak to them. Ignoring or refusing our requests adds up to resisting being held accountable by a democratically elected legislature," Damian Collins MP, chair of the DCMS Committee, said.

"Should Mr Nix or Mr Cummings fail to comply, the Committee can report the matter to the House. This could result in a decision that a contempt of Parliament has been committed."

02/05/2018: The UK's ultimatum to Zuckerberg: Answer MPs or face summons

Mark Zuckerberg must be quite used to batting away requests on Facebook, but Damian Collins MP, chair of the Parliamentary digital, culture, media and sport select committee, is proving quite hard to shake.

In the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Collins issued a formal invitation for Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence before parliament about how this happened - kind of how he did recently in Washington. Zuckerberg quickly ticked the figurative "not attending box" in the UK, instead sending a surrogate: chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, who faced a pretty tough grilling from MPs but failed to answer a number of key questions from lawmakers. And now Collins is demanding Zuckerberg show up to make amends - or else be compelled to attend the next time he steps foot on British territory.

"It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country," Collins wrote in a letter to Facebook's UK head of public policy. "We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK."

Arguing that Schroepfer had failed to answer at least 39 questions raised by the committee, Collins yesterday made the ultimatum: "Following reports that he will be giving evidence to the European Parliament in May, we would like Mr Zuckerberg to come to London during his European trip. We would like the session here to take place by 24 May."

We are yet to see how Facebook will respond to this request - given the relative ease with which Zuckerberg was able to answer American lawmakers' questions, it might just be easiest to show up then force parliament to keep an eye out for him at passport control.

Alan Martin

After a false career start producing flash games, Alan Martin has been writing about phones, wearables and internet culture for over a decade with bylines all over the web and print.

Previously Deputy Editor of Alphr, he turned freelance in 2018 and his words can now be found all over the web, on the likes of Tom's Guide, The i, TechRadar, NME, Gizmodo, Coach, T3, The New Statesman and ShortList, as well as in the odd magazine and newspaper.

He's rarely seen not wearing at least one smartwatch, can talk your ear off about political biographies, and is a long-suffering fan of Derby County FC (which, on balance, he'd rather not talk about). He lives in London, right at the bottom of the Northern Line, long after you think it ends.

You can find Alan tweeting at @alan_p_martin, or email him at mralanpmartin@gmail.com.