Facebook to hold crisis meeting without Zuckerberg

Facebook is holding an open meeting for all employees following allegations that data belonging to its users was harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

The company’s chief executive and founder Mark Zuckerberg has not commented on the scandal nor made a public appearance since the story broke.

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Mr Zuckerberg will not be present to lead Tuesday’s meeting, which instead will be chaired by Facebook’s deputy general counsel, Paul Grewal.

Cambridge Analytica is accused of illegally harvesting the personal data of 50 million Facebook users.

The crisis meeting follows a stock fall which wiped $37bn (£26bn) off its value as investigations are launched by the UK’s Information Commissioner as well as European authorities.

According to an internal calendar invitation seen by technology publication The Verge, the meeting is scheduled for 10am Pacific Time (5pm UK time) today.

The login page of Facebook's website
Video: EU to probe Facebook over data usage

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has sought an urgent court warrant to search the premises of Cambridge Analytica in London for evidence of any breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Ms Denham is pursuing evidence as part of her look at the company’s use of data analytics for political purposes and has filed for the warrant after Cambridge Analytica failed to respond to a deadline for access to its records.

It follows news that Facebook’s staff were themselves attending Cambridge Analytica’s offices on Monday night, which Ms Denham demanded they cease, stating that the social media company’s search “would potentially compromise a regulatory investigation”.

Cambridge Analytica told Sky News it has been in touch with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) since February 2017, when it hosted the ICO’s team in its London office “to provide total transparency on all the data we hold, its usage, and other aspects of our business”.

“We have been fully compliant and proactive in our conversations with the ICO,” the company added.

“Since early last year we have subsequently cooperated with the ICO on multiple lines of enquiry, including most recently on the Facebook data and derivatives that we received from GSR, the research company that we engaged in good faith to legally supply data for research.

“On this point we have offered to share with the ICO all the information that it asked for and for the ICO to attend our office voluntarily, subject to our agreeing the scope of the inspection.

“We remain committed to helping the ICO and all other concerned organisations in their investigations and audits.”

The Information Commissioner's office is investigating Gwent. Pic: ICO
Image: The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. Pic: ICO

The Prime Minister has called on the company to “co-operate fully” with the Information Commissioner, with Downing Street describing allegations that Cambridge Analytica harvested more than 50 million Facebook profiles in a data breach as “very concerning”.

The claims have prompted calls for either Mr Zuckerberg or another senior executive to give evidence to MPs.

Facebook has also called off its own search of Cambridge Analytica premises at the Information Commissioner’s request.

The elections consultancy firm has denied engaging in “entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps'” in the course of its work.

In an undercover investigation, Channel 4 News secretly filmed Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix speaking to a reporter posing as a potential client from Sri Lanka.

Raising the possibility of “somebody posing as a wealthy developer” in an explanation of the company’s election services, Mr Nix said: “They will offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land.

“For instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded on cameras, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and then post it on the internet.”

Mr Nix also spoke of sending “very beautiful” Ukrainian girls to a candidate’s house, while he also added: “It sounds a dreadful thing to say but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed.”

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Video: Claims data breach affected 50 million Facebook users

Cambridge Analytica claimed the Channel 4 News report was “edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business”.

The company said: “Assessing the legality and reputational risks associated with new projects is critical for us, and we routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions.

“The two Cambridge Analytica executives at the meeting humoured these questions and actively encouraged the prospective client to disclose his intentions.

“They left with grave concerns and did not meet with him again.”

Accompanying the statement on Cambridge Analytica’s website, Mr Nix added: “In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.

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“I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case. I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.

“I deeply regret my role in the meeting and I have already apologised to staff. I should have recognised where the prospective client was taking our conversations and ended the relationship sooner.”

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