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In latest blow, Britain seizes internal Facebook documents

The "unprecedented" move comes after Mark Zuckerberg's continued refusal to testify.

British authorities seized a cache of internal Facebook documents this week. CREDIT: SOPA Images / GETTY
British authorities seized a cache of internal Facebook documents this week. CREDIT: SOPA Images / GETTY

If you think Facebook’s PR crisis can’t get any worse, think again.

This weekend, the Observer reported that British authorities had seized a cache of internal Facebook documents that purportedly contain “significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls.”

The documents specifically point to what Facebook knew before the Cambridge Analytica scandal — which saw tens of millions of Facebook users’ data unknowingly harvested — broke earlier this year.

The documents also “include confidential emails between senior executives, and correspondence with [Facebook chief Mark] Zuckerberg,” the Observer reported.

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The document seizure, according to British MP Damian Collins, is an “unprecedented move” — one necessary because “it’s an unprecedented situation.”

The move follows Zuckerberg’s continued refusal to testify in London, fitting a broader pattern of silence from Facebook’s head. As Carole Cadwalladr, a British journalist who has exposed numerous facets of Facebook’s malfeasance over the past few years, wrote this month:

Five times, a parliamentary committee has asked Mark Zuckerberg to answer its questions. And five times, Zuckerberg has refused. In the last instance, he said no to five national assemblies, when, in an unprecedented act, the British Parliament joined forces with counterparts in Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Ireland to invite Facebook’s chief executive to an extraordinary joint international committee on November 27. It’s often said that Facebook is more powerful than a nation-state. It’s not; it’s more powerful than five nation-states.

The new documents relate to a legal dispute between Facebook and a software company called Six4Three, which alleged in California that Facebook “was not only aware of the implications of its privacy policy, but actively exploited them” for profit and data-harvesting, the Observer reported.

The documents remain under a court seal, and haven’t yet been made public. 

British authorities sent a sergeant-at-arms to the hotel room of a Six4Three owner Ted Kramer to make sure he complied with the order to turn over the documents. When the two-hour deadline passed without the documents being turned over, Kramer was apparently escorted to parliament. The documents were eventually turned over. 

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“I think it’s really important to understand that they have fought tooth and nail to prevent this evidence from becoming public which we believe the world should see,” Kramer told CNN over the summer.

The move comes on the heels of Facebook’s latest PR blunder. The New York Times reported this month that Facebook, in an effort to silence critics, hired a PR firm founded by Republican operative Tim Miller to disseminate information linking critics to George Soros, a favorite ploy of anti-Semites. Miller even emailed Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson to help in his efforts in smearing Facebook’s rivals.

Facebook later admitted to the tactic of pointing to Soros — but only did so at the last possible moment before last week’s Thanksgiving break, a move widely seen as the company’s latest effort to bury information that might harm the company’s image.

Elsewhere, Facebook still hasn’t identified the culprit behind its largest security breach to date, which saw tens of millions of accounts accessed earlier this year — one of the reasons the company’s stock is currently the lowest it’s been over the past 18 months.