DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
show image

Oscar Williams

News editor

What we did – and didn’t – learn from Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer’s appearance in parliament

Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, faced more than four hours of questioning on Thursday when he appeared before parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee. Led by the Conservative backbencher Damian Collins, the committee’s members may lack the legislative might of the US legislators who quizzed Mark Zuckerberg last month, but they launched a more informed line of questioning. Here’s what we did – and didn’t – learn from their latest session.

What we learned

Facebook didn’t read the terms and conditions of Aleksandr Kogan’s app. The social network has come under fire in recent weeks for having allowed Kogan, a Cambridge University academic, to harvest tens of millions of Facebook users’ data without their permission, before handing it over to Cambridge Analytica. Schroepfer told the committee that, at the time, Facebook automated the process of checking Ts and Cs. “We did not read all of the terms and conditions,” he admitted.

The social network is investigating Peter Thiel’s big data anlytics firm Palantir. Schroepfer said that Facebook is reviewing how a number of companies used its platform, and that Palantir is among them: “Since it’s in the public discourse, it’s obviously something we’re looking into.”

Schroepfer is sorry Facebook threatened to sue the GuardianQuizzed over the legal threats that the social network sent the newspaper group as it was preparing to publish its Cambridge Analytica investigation, Schroepfer said: “I am sorry that journalists feel we are attempting to prevent the truth coming out.”

What we didn’t learn

How much Facebook has earned from “dark ads”. After the session, the committee posted a series of questions Schroepfer was unable or unwilling to fully answer. Among the most significant was whether the social network has kept a record of how much it makes from so-called dark ads – those which target political messages at particular groups. Collins said Schroepfer had “failed to answer many specific and detailed questions about Facebook’s business practices”. He added that given the “large number of outstanding question questions”, the committee believes Zuckerberg should still make an appearance.