Nov 25, 2018

Parliament seizes Facebook records as firm faces global trust crisis

Illustration: Caresse Haaser, Sarah Grillo / Axios

The U.K. Parliament has seized internal Facebook documents in an unusual move to answer questions it feels the company has been dodging, the Guardian reports.

Why it matters: Pressure has been mounting on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in front of the members of Parliament and other world leaders for weeks, but Zuckerberg has repeatedly turned down such requests.

Details: The files reportedly contain "significant revelations" about Facebook decisions on data and privacy control, as well as correspondence between top executives, per the Guardian.

  • Damian Collins, chair of Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to force the founder of a U.S. software company to hand over the documents while on a business trip to London.
  • In a dramatic and unusual move, a serjeant at arms was sent to the founder of Six4Three's hotel and ordered him to hand over the documents or face fines and, potentially, imprisonment, according to the report.
  • The documents were obtained by Six4Three in a separate legal process, according to the Guardian, which caught the attention of U.K. officials. In its own legal fight, Six4Three alleges Facebook was aware of privacy problems and actively exploited them.
  • In a comment to the Guardian, Facebook says that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously.” It adds, “The materials obtained by the DCMS committee are subject to a protective order of the San Mateo Superior Court restricting their disclosure. We have asked the DCMS committee to refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to Facebook. We have no further comment.”

Background: Facebook has faced pressure to be more transparent with officials around the world, and particularly in the U.K. and EU, over how it handles an array of issues, like data privacy, election meddling and terrorist content.

  • On Friday, The Washington Post reported that Zuckerberg declined to testify at a rare joint hearing with lawmakers from seven countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore and the U.K.
  • Lawmakers had been lobbying Facebook to appear for weeks, even launching a Twitter campaign to get people to retweet their plea to have Zuckerberg testify.
  • Facebook will be sending Richard Allan, vice-president for policy, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in Zuckerberg’s stead, as confirmed by the Washington Post and TechCrunch.
  • Last week British members of parliament urged advertisers to boycott Facebook and Google over their alleged inability to contain terrorist content.

Be smart: It's unusual for countries from four different continents to band together in an effort to hold a U.S.-based company accountable for its actions in this way. The move suggests that Facebook's public relations crisis in the U.S. is spilling over globally.

Between the lines: An article published earlier this month by the New York Times suggested that Facebook's top executives sought to deflect blame for a growing number of problems on its platform.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since denied that the company intentionally ignored or sought to hamper investigations into those problems. But the allegations in the article have so far been enough to rattle lawmakers.
  • Facebook released a memo the evening before Thanksgiving in the U.S. that conceded executives may know more about the hiring of a controversial public relations firm that top executives initially denied knowing about.

Bottom line: Facebook's year of controversies in the U.S. might be the beginning of many more to come abroad.

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New Zealand sets sights on coronavirus elimination after 2 weeks of lockdown

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives a coronavirus media update at the New Zealand Parliament in Wellington. Photo: Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images

AUCKLAND -- New Zealand has flattened the curve of novel coronavirus cases after two weeks of lockdown and the next phase is to "squash it," Professor Shaun Hendy, who heads a scientific body advising the government on COVID-19, told Axios.

Why it matters: The country imposed 14 days ago some of the toughest restrictions in the world in response to the pandemic, despite confirming only 102 cases and no deaths at the time.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 a.m. ET: 1,431,375 — Total deaths: 82,145 — Total recoveries: 301,543Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 a.m. ET: 399,886 — Total deaths: 12,910 — Total recoveries: 22,461Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Acting Navy secretary resigns over handling of virus-infected ship — Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill — Trump said he "didn't see" memos from his trade adviser Peter Navarro warning that the crisis could kill more than half a million Americans.
  4. States latest: California Gov. Gavin Newsom is confident that more than 200 million masks will be delivered to the state "at a monthly basis starting in the next few weeks."
  5. Business latest: America's food heroes in times of the coronavirus crisis. Even when the economy comes back to life, huge questions for airlines will remain.
  6. World updates: China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown.
  7. 2020 latest: Polls for Wisconsin's primary elections closed at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, but results won't be released until April 13. Thousands of residents cast ballots in person.
  8. 1 Olympics thing: About 6,500 athletes who qualified for the Tokyo Games will keep their spots in 2021.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Tariff worries hit record high amid coronavirus outbreak

Data: CivicScience, margin of error ±1 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

Concern about President Trump's tariffs on U.S imports grew to record high levels among Americans last month, particularly as more lost their jobs and concern about the novel coronavirus increased.

Driving the news: About seven in 10 people said they were at least somewhat concerned about tariffs in March, according to the latest survey from CivicScience provided first to Axios.