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Facebook is a ‘morality-free zone’ and is ‘concealing truth’, say MPs

Image credit: PA

Chief technology officer says Aggregate IQ spent $2 million on political adverts on social network during the UK referendum, but that data collected by Aleksandr Kogan was not used to target voters.

Facebook has been accused by MPs of “concealing the truth” from Parliament and of lacking integrity amid the fallout from the scandal involving the misuse of users data.

Ian Lucas, a Labour member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, today grilled the tech giant’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer about the firm’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica, the company accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the 2016 US election.

Lucas asked why Facebook had not disclosed its relationship with Cambridge Analytica to MPs in February, when the committee had taken evidence from another of the tech firm’s representatives – despite the Silicon Valley firm having known about the link since the winter of 2015.

“We are a parliamentary committee. We went to Washington for evidence and we raised the issue of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook concealed evidence from us, as an organisation, on that day. Isn’t that the truth?” Lucas asked. He added: I don’t make this allegation lightly: I think Facebook concealed the truth from us in February.

Schroepfer replied: “I don’t know what happened here. I am doing my best to give you all the data that you need today.”

The chairman of the committee, Damian Collins, accused Facebook of exhibiting a “pattern of behaviour” that suggested “unwillingness to engage” with MPs and the public.

He added: “We wouldn’t be having this discussion now if this information hadn’t been brought into the light by investigative journalists - and Facebook even tried to stop that happening as well. Whilst none of these acts may be someone directly caught out telling a mistruth, it’s a pattern of behaviour.”

Another member of the committee, Christian Matheson, asked about the lawsuit being brought against Facebook by MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis, who is angry about exploitative scam adverts appearing on the social network which purport to be endorsed by him and which use his image.

Matheson wanted to know whether Facebook was pocketing revenue from these ads even when it closed them down – but Schroepfer said he did not know the answer.

“Trust me, we are motivated to get these ads off the platform,” Schroepfer insisted, but he said this task was “challenging because these folks are trying to evade our detection systems in multiple ways.”

Matheson said it would be a “queer situation” if Facebook kept the revenue from these fake ads.

Schroepfer also confirmed that Aggregate IQ, the Canadian data firm employed by multiple Brexit campaign groups, spent $2 million on political adverts on the social network during the referendum campaign. However, he said data collected by Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan and passed to Cambridge Analytica was not used by Aggregate IQ to target voters during the campaign.

Conservative MP Julian Knight accused Facebook of being a “morality-free zone destructive to a fundamental right of privacy”. The MPs also criticised the decision by Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg not to appear before them.

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