News Brief

UK Parliament Body Calls For New Facebook Regulation

A British parliamentary inquiry into fake news and disinformation has concluded that social media giants have violated data privacy laws and “malign forces intent on causing disruption and confusion” have interfered in elections both in the UK and globally.

The report based on 18 months of research by a cross-party parliamentary panel, branded Facebook’s behavior akin to “digital gangsters.” It accused the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg of lying and only ever taking corrective action over alleged violations of law after they became public.

The report says Facebook was willing to bypass privacy settings in order to sell data to third parties, something that was the crux of its business model. “Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that “we’ve never sold anyone’s data” is simply untrue,” the report said.

The parliamentary committee advocated wide-ranging reforms and a regulatory body to oversee social media companies, actions that should be funded via a tax on these companies. The changes are urgently needed to combat disinformation and hold social media companies accountable for the content they host. “We must use technology, instead, to free our minds and use regulation to restore democratic accountability. We must make sure that people stay in charge of the machines,” the report read.

The report could be a turning point for the way in which lawmakers approach the new forces shaping politics and elections. However, the report does not have the force of law and it’s unclear how or whether parliament will act on the conclusions.

One of the key points the report focused on was the need to protect ‘inferred data’ – data produced based on on analysis of a user’s profile that matches them to similar users – which is a technique used in political microtargeting in electoral campaigns.

Repeating a call from its interim findings published in July 2018, the committee recommended that the British government launch an independent investigation into potential Russian interference into past UK elections, including the 2017 snap election, the 2016 Brexit referendum, and the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.