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Facebook Found to be Lobbying Against Data Privacy

Dominique Adams

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Leaked internal documents suggest that Facebook tried to influence policy makers by dangling the promise of offering or withholding incentives such as investment.

Leaked internal documents have revealed that Facebook has been strategically lobbying against data privacy legislation on a global scale.

The documents, seen by Computer Weekly and the Observer, revealed that the social network has been earnestly wooing and cajoling politicians, including former UK Chancellor George Osborne, to lobby against data privacy legislation.

The documents reveal a secretive international campaign that targeted hundreds of legislators and regulators worldwide, including in the UK, US, Canada, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and all 28 states of the EU.

They suggest that Facebook tried to influence policy makers by dangling the promise of offering or withholding incentives such as investment.

The documents also show that Facebook initiated a strategic campaign spanning across Europe to stop the “overly restrictive” GDPR regulations.

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They contain allegations that the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, touted his country’s influence during its six-month presidency of the European Council, saying it could promote Facebook’s interests. Kenny, who resigned in 2017, has not responded to questions from the Observer on the matter.

The documents also reveal that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg attempted to influence Osborne to be “even more active and vocal” over his concerns regarding EU data protection legislation.

During a lobbying campaign to influence EU policy, she solicited him to “really help shape the proposals”. To support her overtures to him, she invited one of his children to visit a Facebook office after he had said they wanted an account on the platform.

Her meeting with the ex chancellor was documented by Marne Levine, Facebook’s then VP of global public policy, a role which is now filled by Nick Clegg.

The document claims Osborne was “very pleased” with Sandberg’s offer to collaborate with him to launch an app-building course for children in 12 ‘under-served’ schools in London.

According to the documents, Facebook has been concerned about increasing data privacy rights since 2013, and that it used its staff to try and influence policy makers at Davos.

Other allegations include accusations that Sandberg tried to use her feminist novel Lean In to “bond” with European commissioners the company felt went counter to Facebook’s interests over data privacy.

Computer Weekly said that the leaked memo forms part of a previously unpublished cache of documents seized when the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee dispatched Parliament’s serjeant-at-arms to arrest Ted Kramer.

A spokesperson for Facebook responded to the leak saying: “Like the other documents that were cherrypicked and released in violation of a court order last year, these by design tell one side of a story and omit important context.”

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Osborne, who said the meetings were not secret, told the Observer: “I don’t think it’s a surprise that the UK chancellor would meet the chief operating officer of one of the world’s largest companies…Facebook and other US tech firms, in private, as in public, raised concerns about the proposed European Data Directive.

“To your specific inquiry, I didn’t follow up on those concerns, or lobby the EU, because I didn’t agree with them.”

The leaked documents also revealed that the UK cross-party political think tank, Demos, was planning to explore the subject of “how social media can win an election for you”, with the support of Facebook’s public policy team.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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