Published: Fri, November 30, 2018
World News | By Sandy Lane

Facebook knew about Russian activity in 2014: British MP

Facebook knew about Russian activity in 2014: British MP

Facebook was told four years ago that Russians were exploiting security failings to harvest "billions" of items of user data a day, an MP claimed yesterday. He pointed to newly obtained evidence, including an unreleased document that may show Facebook data was vulnerable to Russian actors in 2014, as he asked the company: "Can you not see this has caused a massive breach of trust?"

Concerns over the social media giant's practices, the role of political adverts and possible interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and USA elections are among the topics being investigated by British and European regulators.

Appearing in Zuckerberg's place was Richard Allan, Facebook's vice president of policy solutions. The committee wasn't thrilled, and much as when USA lawmakers left an empty chair for Google CEO Larry Page to highlight his absence from a Congressional hearing, it placed a vacant seat at the table along with a name placard on the table for where Zuckerberg was supposed to be.

Allan did not answer the question and said the information in the documents in Collins' possession was "at best partial, at worst misleading".

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Chief among the grievances of representatives was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's refusal to answer questions, despite repeated invitations.

Collins, who heads the British parliamentary committee on disinformation, made headlines this past weekend when he invoked a " in order to obtain internal Facebook.

At the time of the hearing, the committee shared a picture of the empty and seat and nameplate, stating: "Nine countries".

Collins said the committee hoped to publish the documents in the coming week.

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At the hearing, a representative from the United Kingdom alleged that Facebook higher-ups were aware of Russian attempts to manipulate its platform in October 2014, well before the date previously publicly acknowledged that information first being brought to their attention.

In a statement, Facebook said, "We looked into this at the time and determined that the calls to the API [Facebook system] were all legitimate API calls from Pinterest and not from Russian Federation". Charlie Angus, a Canadian lawmaker, brushed aside Allan's admission that Facebook had faulted, instead focusing on the company's lack of response to ongoing problems.

Allan said that Facebook would welcome clear laws globally around political communication and was willing to accept some further regulation. "The engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity", the company said in an email to Bloomberg Tuesday. Kramer's company acquired the files as part of a legal discovery process in a lawsuit against Facebook.

An investigative piece published last week by The New York Times said Facebook misled the public about what it knew about Russia's meddling in the USA campaign.

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In front of the committee, Mr. Allan agreed with Mr. Erskine-Smith when he said it appeared Facebook has been negligent in not acting sooner to remove disinformation from its pages. In August, Facebook temporarily suspended over 400 apps over concerns they may have mishandled users' personal data.

Significantly, Singapore's Edwin Tong also questioned Allan on Facebook's policies on hate speech and removing content that attacks people on "race, religion, and ethnicity".

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