U.K. lawmakers said Facebook “intentionally and knowingly” violated data privacy and competition laws and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg showed “contempt” toward Parliament by not appearing before it.
The comments came in a report from the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in the House of Commons. The report said documents showed Facebook was, “willing to override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data” to app developers. It then “starved” other developers of data to force them out of business. The report also called on the U.K. government to examine recent elections for evidence of voter manipulation.
“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,” the report said.
The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, endorsed the report’s findings, saying the “era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately.”
“We need new independent regulation with a tough powers-and-sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy,” he said.
In a statement in response to the report, Facebook’s U.K. public policy manager, Karim Palant, said the company “supports effective privacy legislation” and is also open to “meaningful regulation.”
“No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do,” said Palant. “We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse,” Palant said.
In addition to lambasting Facebook, the committee made recommendations on how to combat “fake news” and disinformation. It called for an independent U.K. regulator that would monitor tech companies and have the power to launch legal proceedings against them. It also recommended a comprehensive audit of the advertising market on social media.
The committee’s chairman, Damian Collins, said, “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalized ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day.”
The U.K. committee’s report was in part based on a review of internal Facebook emails and documents obtained from an app company, Six4Three, that is suing Facebook in the state of California. A Six4Three app went out of business in 2015 after Facebook changed its API to cut off app developers from their users’ friends data.