Facebook “intentionally and knowingly” violated U.K. data privacy and anti-competition laws and urgently needs to be regulated and investigated, a scathing new report by British lawmakers said.
The final report issued Monday by the U.K.’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee concluded an 18-month investigation into Facebook and other social media companies for their role in spreading “fake news” and disinformation. In the 108-page document, lawmakers called for the creation of an independent regulator for social media sites and a mandatory code of conduct that, if breached, could result in “large fines.”
“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the report said.
The committee accused Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing “contempt” toward U.K. parliament for declining to testify in front of lawmakers. Zuckerberg appeared in front of U.S. and EU lawmakers to discuss the company’s data collection practices last year but sent other company representatives to testify in Britain.
“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Damian Collins, chair of the committee, said on the committee’s website.
In a statement, Facebook said it made a “significant contribution” to the investigation, answering more than 700 questions with four senior executives providing evidence, adding it supports “effective privacy legislation.”
“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” Karim Palant, U.K. public policy manager at Facebook, said.
The U.K. committee’s report builds on preliminary findings issued in Julycalling for more oversight of social media companies and adds to growing demands for increased regulation and scrutiny of big tech firms. Much of the report published Monday focused on Facebook’s data collection practices and the Cambridge Analytica data scandalthat exploited millions of users’ personal data.
Lawmakers also published new internal Facebook emails on Monday related to a California lawsuit between Facebook and app developer Six4Three. A batch of emails published by the committee in December showed Facebook had considered giving companies special access to users’ personal data. At the time, Facebook said the documents omitted important context and only revealed “one side of the story.”
British lawmakers on Monday said they found evidence Facebook was willing to “override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data to some app developers.” Their report urged both the U.K. data protection commission and the anti-competition authority to carry out detailed investigations into its practices.
“It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws,” lawmakers said.
The report welcomed the findings of an independent U.K. government report published last week calling for antitrust investigations in search and social media companies like Facebook and Google for their dominance in online advertising.
The committee also backed a “Code of Ethics” that would be overseen by an independent regulator, similar to Ofcom which regulates broadcasting ethics in the U.K. The code would require social media companies to remove “harmful content” from their platform or face penalties including fines.