Just when you thought that the heat had gone from Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, 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 countless requests to drag Mark Zuckerberg in front of his parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to answer questions over the data debacle.
Now Collins, whose committee is holding an inquiry into fake news, has laid his hands on evidence that might be impossible for the Facebook CEO to ignore – and it all stems from an app that lets you see your friends in their swimwear.
Here’s the story of how Zuckerberg could be humbled by a creepy bikini app:
Facebook sued bikini app developer
Facebook has been involved in a three-year legal battle with a software company called Six4Three.
The app in question was called Pikinis. It allowed users to surface images of their male or female Facebook friends in bikinis or bathing suits using photo-scanning technology.
Pikinis received a smattering of press attention in 2013. HuffPo 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 eventually shut down in 2015.
A promotional video for the app is still is available on YouTube. It features a man at a coffee shop bar looking at women who magically shed their clothes at the touch of his phone.
Six4Three obtains potentially explosive evidence
As part of the protracted legal battle, Pikinis creator 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 Superior Court in California, US, has ordered that the documents remain under seal – even after CNN and The Guardian filed a motion in June to make them public.
But they have now been seized by British MP Damian Collins after he invoked an arcane piece of UK parliamentary privilege.
Collins wrote to Six4Three founder Ted Kramer last Monday to request the papers. Kramer happened to be in the UK on business, according to CNN, and Collins’ letter was sent to his hotel in central London.
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Foundation For Sports Integrity
After refusing to hand over the evidence, Kramer was then escorted to parliament, where he was told he could face a fine or imprisonment if he failed to produce the documents, The Observer said.
The newspaper added this process was overseen by a serjeant at arms, an official responsible for security and keeping order within the House of Commons.
Some have pointed out that the whole affair looks somewhat coordinated. NBC’s tech investigations editor Olivia Solon speculated Kramer was complicit because his lawyers are not “decrying jurisdictional overreach.”
Indeed, Kramer has himself said the documents should be published. He told CNN: “I think it’s really important to understand that they [Facebook] have fought tooth and nail to prevent this evidence from becoming public which we believe the world should see.”
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee declined to comment.
Will the documents be published?
Despite serious protestations from Facebook, it appears that Collins is leaning towards publication. In an email to Facebook public policy chief Richard Allan on Sunday evening , he said there is a “high level of public interest” in making them public.
Allan has written to Collins to say that Six4Three’s lawsuit is “entirely without merit” and the documents obtained by the parliamentary committee are under seal by court order.
A Facebook spokeswoman added: “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 will come to a head on Tuesday when Allan is grilled by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee during a public hearing.
How could Zuckerberg be implicated?
It is hard to say exactly how Zuckerberg will be implicated, if at all, in the Six4Three case.
At the very least, this week will reopen barely healed wounds over Cambridge Analytica, a scandal that 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 that leads directly back to Zuckerberg, the 34-year-old CEO will find himself at the center of a scandal.
Zuckerberg has endured the most difficult year of his tenure, in which he 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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