MPs leave empty chair for Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg at fake news inquiry

MPs have questioned Facebook’s European policy chief at a hearing in Westminster – but left an empty chair for the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg after he refused to appear.

Richard Allan attended the hearing instead of Mr Zuckerberg, who has consistently declined to offer himself up for questioning by the digital, culture, media and sport committee during the course of its inquiry into fake news.

Mr Allan – a Liberal Democrat peer – is being quizzed by UK MPs and parliamentarians from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Latvia and Singapore.

At the time of the hearing, the committee shared a picture of the empty and seat and nameplate, stating: “Nine countries. 24 official representatives. 447 million people represented. One question: where is Mark Zuckerberg?”

SUN VALLEY, ID - JULY 13: Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, checks his phone during the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 13, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Every July, some of the world's most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, technology and political spheres converge at the Sun Valley Resort for the exclusive weeklong conference. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Mark Zuckerberg declined to attend the committee’s hearing

The hearing follows the unusual seizure of internal Facebook documents from another company by the committee using parliament’s ancient legal powers.

At the time, the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins, told The Observer: “We are in uncharted territory. This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation.

“We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

:: What does Facebook do with my data – and how do I stop it?

Addressing Mr Allan on Tuesday, Mr Collins said the committee was unable to publish information contained in the documents but noted a single incident.

He said: “An engineer at Facebook notified the company in 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. Now, was that reported to any external body at the time?”

It is not currently clear what these “data points” were regarding nor whether they could have provided personally identifiable information or simply amounted to non-sensitive technical data.

Mr Allan stressed that the emails which the committee had received were partial and not representative of Facebook’s policy, as much as they were the position of the company they had been collected from.

Mr Collins said: “If you don’t have the answer to it, I’d like Facebook to report back to the committee to say what internal process it ran when this was reported to the company by an engineer, and did they notify external agencies of this activity?

“Because if Russian IP addresses were pulling down a huge amount of data from the platform, was that reported or was that just kept, as so often seems to be the case, was that just kept in the family and not talked about?”

Mr Allan said he would have to get back to the committee on this question.

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