An MP has called it “absolutely astonishing” that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has rejected a request to give evidence over the Cambridge Analytics scandal.
Facebook told the UK government’s culture committee that Zuckerberg would not appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is investigating fake news, and that the company would instead send its chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer or head of product Chris Cox.
Damian Collins, who chairs the committee, said it was “absolutely astonishing” Zuckerberg would not come to give evidence for its fake news inquiry.
Facebook has been reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The controversial data company used an app to harvest the data of around 50 million users, information which was then used to profile voters in the lead up to the US presidential election in 2016, and the EU referendum in the UK.
Speaking after three hours of evidence from Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie, Collins said: “I must say that I think given the extraordinary evidence we have heard so far today… it is absolutely astonishing that Mark Zuckerberg is not prepared to submit himself for questioning in front of a parliamentary or congressional hearing, given that these are questions of fundamental importance to Facebook users as well as to our inquiry...
“I would certainly urge him to think again if he has any concern for the people who use his company’s services.”
Rebecca Stimson, Facebook UK’s head of policy, wrote on Monday: “Facebook recognises the level of public and parliamentary interest in these issues and supports your belief that these issues must be address at the most senior levels of the company by those in an authoritative position to answer your questions.
“As such, Mr Zuckerberg has personally asked one of his deputies to make themselves available to give evidence in person.”
She added the two deputies “report directly to Mr Zuckerberg and are among the longest serving senior representatives in Facebook’s 15-year history”.
Stimson said that fewer than 1% of the Facebook users who downloaded a personality test app, developed by the scandal-hit Cambridge Analytica, were from the EU.
Before Tuesday’s hearing began, Collins struck a more diplomatic tone about Zuckerberg’s refusal.
The MP said he would still like to hear from Zuckerberg, though he welcomed the offer of to have Cox or Schroepfer come in the first week after the Easter recess.
He said the committee would clarify whether Zuckerberg was available to give evidence as this “wasn’t clear” from the letter.
Zuckerberg is also under pressure to testify before the US Congress but has also so far refused.
The American Fair Trade Commission is investigating Facebook’s privacy practices in the US.
Read Facebook’s letter to Damian Collins
Collins wrote to the Facebook founder on March 20, saying someone “from right at the top” of the organisation had to answer questions, adding he would this would be Zuckerberg.
“It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process,” he wrote.
“The committee has repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and in particular about whether data had been taken without their consent.
“Your officials’ answers have consistently understated this risk, and have been misleading to the committee.”