- British lawmakers have – and may publish – potentially explosive documents that could shed light on Facebook’s approach to user privacy.
- The documents risk reopening barely healed wounds from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which easily ranks among the worst in Facebook’s history.
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could be implicated in the documents, which stem from an app designed to find photos of your friends in their swimwear.
- Here’s how Zuckerberg could be humbled by a creepy bikini app.
Just when you thought that the heat from Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal was gone, a fire has been lit under the story again by a group of British lawmakers who have been relentless in their pursuit of answers.
MP Damian Collins had hit a brick wall with numerous requests to put Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in front of his parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, which is holding an inquiry into misinformation and fake news, to answer questions about the data debacle.
Now Collins has his hands on documents that might be impossible for the Facebook CEO to ignore – and it all stems from an app designed to find photos of your friends in their swimwear.
Here’s how Zuckerberg could be humbled by a creepy bikini app.
Facebook sued by bikini app’s developer
Facebook is involved in a three-year legal battle with a software company called Six4Three.
The app, called Pikinis, allowed users to surface images of their Facebook friends in bikinis or bathing suits using photo-scanning technology.
Pikinis received a smattering of press attention in 2013.HuffPost called it “creepy,” and Jezebel said it was a reason to “lock up those privacy settings.” Pikinis never made it out of beta, however, and was shut down in 2015.
A promotional video for the app that’s still available on YouTube features a man at a coffee shop looking at women, who magically shed their clothes with a touch of his phone.
Six4Three obtains potentially explosive evidence
As part of the protracted legal battle, Six4Three obtained documents from Facebook through discovery, “a legal process in which one party to a lawsuit can obtain evidence from the other,”according to CNN.
CNN added that the documents could include correspondence between Zuckerberg and other company executives.
British lawmakers seize the documents
The San Mateo County Superior Court in California has ordered the documents remain sealed, though CNN and The Guardian filed a motion in June to make them public.
But Collins obtained them by invoking an arcane piece of UK parliamentary privilege.
Collins wrote to Six4Three’s founder, Ted Kramer, on November 19 to request the papers. Kramer happened to be in the UK on business, and Collins’ letter was sent to his hotel in central London, according to CNN.
After refusing to hand over the documents, Kramer was escorted to Parliament, where he was told he could face a fine or imprisonment if he failed to produce them, The Observer said.
The newspaper added that this process was overseen by a sergeant at arms, an official responsible for security and keeping order within the House of Commons.
Some have said the whole affair looks somewhat coordinated. NBC’s tech investigations editor, Olivia Solon, speculated that Kramer was complicit because his lawyers were not “decrying jurisdictional overreach.”
Kramer has said the documents should be published.
“I think it’s really important to understand that they have fought tooth and nail to prevent this evidence from becoming public which we believe the world should see,” he told CNN of Facebook.
The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee declined to comment.
Will the documents be published?
Despite Facebook’s protestations, it appears Collins is leaning toward publication.
In an email on Sunday evening to Facebook’s public-policy chief, Richard Allan, Collins said there was a “high level of public interest” in the case.
Allan had told Collins that Six4Three’s lawsuit is “entirely without merit” and that the documents obtained by the parliamentary committee are under seal by court order.
A Facebook spokeswoman said: “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.”
Either way, matters could come to a head on Tuesday when Allan is grilled by the committee in a public hearing.
How could Zuckerberg be implicated?
It’s hard to say exactly how Zuckerberg could be implicated, if at all, in the Six4Three case.
At the very least, this week will reopen barely healed wounds from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which easily ranks among the worst in Facebook’s history.
The mere fact that these documents are now known about has sparked a fresh round of uncomfortable questions about Facebook’s approach to privacy.
If they are published and contain evidence of a company that played fast and loose with user data, Facebook’s reputation will suffer more damage, and its regulatory risk will increase. If they provide a paper trail leading back to Zuckerberg, the 34-year-old CEO will find himself at the center of a scandal.
In the most difficult year of his tenure, Zuckerberg has been battered by a series of scandals over issues including fake news, data breaches, crisis mismanagement, election interference, and inappropriate content.
The timing could not be worse.
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