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MPs want to grill Mark Zuckerberg over Cambridge Analytica’s “data harvesting”

Mark Zuckerberg has been called to appear before Parliament following reports that advertising firm Cambridge Analytica harvested millions of Facebook users’ data without their consent.

The social media giant stands accused of misleading Parliament when its UK policy director Simon Milner told MPs last month that it had not shared user data with Cambridge Analytica.

But in an interview published by the Observer yesterday, a former Cambridge Analytica employee claimed he had worked with a Cambridge University researcher to harvest up to 50 million Facebook users’ data.

Christopher Wylie said Cambridge University’s Aleksandr Kogan was paid to develop a personality test app that harvested participants’ and their friends’ data to build advertising models.

On Friday, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from operating on its platform, in light of reports the firm may not have deleted the data that Kogan, in his position as a director of Global Science Research, had acquired under the auspices of academic research.

Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump’s campaigns ahead of the 2016 US election, said it deleted the data after it became clear it had not been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook’s terms of service. It said the data was not used as part of the services it provided to Trump.

Damian Collins, chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee’s inquiry into fake news, said it was time for Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, to “stop hiding behind his Facebook page”.

“We need to hear from people who can speak about Facebook from a position of authority that requires them to know the truth,” he said. “The reputation of this company is being damaged by stealth, because of their constant failure to respond with clarity and authority to the questions of genuine public interest that are being directed to them.”

Collins added that the committee had repeatedly asked Facebook if data had been taken from people without their consent: “Their answers have consistently understated the risk, and have also been misleading to the committee.”

The committee’s chair also said he would be contacting Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, to ask him to explain comments he previously made to the inquiry and answer further questions relating to the links between GSR and Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg also faces calls to appear before similar inquiries in the US. US senator Amy Klobuchar tweeted: “This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves. I’ve called for more transparency and accountability for online political ads. They say ‘trust us’. Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.”

Facebook said Kogan had “lies to us and violated our platform policies”. Kogan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it would investigate the incident as a part of its broader investigation into the use of data in political advertising campaigns.