Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer has faced tough questioning in parliament today over the social media giant’s handling of private user data.
At a hearing before the Digital, Culture Media and Sport Committee this morning, Shroepfer was also confronted by MPs over Facebook’s role in disseminating misinformation or so-called ‘fake news.’
Facing a series of pointed questions from Tory MP David Collins, Schroepfer discussed everything from Facebook’s role in local elections to the use and collection of data by advertisers on the site and whether this data could be used to influence people politically.
During questioning Schroepfer also revealed that Aggragate IQ, a Canadian company linked to UK political analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, had spent $2m (£1.4m) on the Brexit referendum in 2016.
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On the harvesting of data by Cambridge Analytica, Schroepfer initially insisted the matter had been cleared up: “The issue at hand was a developer had used our platform, collected some data, and resold the data. We believed the matter was resolved.”
However, when pressed further by Labour MP Jo Stevens on why it took Facebook two years to report the data breach to its users, Schroepfer admitted the company’s wrongdoing.
“In retrospect it was a mistake,” said Schroepfer. “I don’t know who made that decision… I don’t know what happened. The key thing at the time was making sure people’s data was safe.”
Tory MP Julian Knight took the criticism as step further saying: “I put it to you that Facebook is a morality-free zone. You aren’t an innocent party maligned by the likes of Cambridge Analytica: you are the problem.”
Schroepfer rejected the criticism saying: “You want us to say we’re responsible, which we have on multiple occasions, and you want transparency on ads and other things. The core of our job is to build a service which helps millions of people connect with each other around the world every day”.
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Prior to the hearing, Schroepfer had released a written statement reitierating comments made by Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg:
“What happened with Cambridge Analytica represents a breach of trust, and we are deeply sorry. We made mistakes and we are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The written submission also stated that anyone wanting to run political ads would have to complete an authorization process by Facebook, and that messages would also have to display who paid for them.