Facebook looks set for another bruising week as it continues to be dogged by the catastrophic Cambridge Analytica data breach, which was first exposed in March.
The social network is scrambling to suppress the release of a cache of legal documents that were seized by British lawmakers after they invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism.
But Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee which secured the papers, said in an email to Facebook on Sunday evening that there is a “high level of public interest” in making them public.
His committee secured the documents from Ted Kramer, the founder of software company Six4Three, who obtained them as part of legal action his firm is taking against Facebook in California. Six4Three claims its app, Pikini, was killed when Facebook stopped app developers from accessing friend data in 2015.
Kramer was compelled to hand over the evidence on a visit to London, according to The Observer. After initially refusing, he was escorted to parliament, where he was told he could face a fine or imprisonment if he failed to produce the documents, the newspaper added.
“We have asked many questions of Facebook about its policies on sharing user data with developers, how these have been enforced, and how the company identifies activity by bad actors,” Collins said in an email to Facebook public policy chief Richard Allan.
“We believe that the documents we have ordered from Six4Three could contain important information about this which is of a high level of public interest. We are also interested to know whether the policies of Facebook, as expressed within these documents, are consistent with the public statements the company has made on the same issues.”
Earlier on Sunday, Allan had written to Collins to say that Six4Three’s lawsuit is “entirely without merit” and the documents obtained by the parliamentary committee are under seal by court order.
A Facebook spokeswoman added: “Six4Three’s claims are entirely meritless — Facebook has never traded Facebook data for anything and we’ve always made clear that developer access is subject to both our policies and what info people choose to share.
“We operate in a fiercely competitive market in which people connect and share. For every service offered on Facebook and our family of apps, you can find at least three or four competing services with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of users.”
Allan is poised to give evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, when the debate over releasing the Six4Three documents could come to a head. A spokeswoman for the committee declined to comment on whether the documents will be made public, but said there will be a further update on Monday.
The evidence session forms part of Collins’ work to assemble an “international grand committee” on fake news, meaning parliamentarians from six other countries will be present. The lawmakers from countries, including Canada, Brazil, and Ireland, will also hold a press conference, during which it is likely they will question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to appear before the joint international committee.