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Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Declines To Appear Before British Parliament, Sparking Anger


In Britain, a special parliamentary committee is investigating whether Cambridge Analytica used the data it got from Facebook to influence the Brexit vote. Today the committee heard from a whistleblower from the London-based data mining firm. But their request to hear from Facebook's CEO was rejected. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has this update from London.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Lawmakers were hoping to question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. But Zuckerberg said he would send two executives in his place, prompting this response from committee chairman Damian Collins.


DAMIAN COLLINS: Given the extraordinary evidence we've heard so far today, I think it is absolutely astonishing that Mark Zuckerberg is not prepared to submit himself to questioning in front of a hearing.

KAKISSIS: Someone who was prepared to submit to questioning today was Christopher Wylie, the 28-year-old Canadian data scientist who used to work for Cambridge Analytica and is now claiming its staff use information to undermine democracy around the world.


CHRISTOPHER WYLIE: They don't care whether or not what they do is legal as long as it gets the job done. So they are an example of what modern-day colonialism looks like.

KAKISSIS: Wiley told lawmakers that Cambridge Analytica is also linked to the Canadian digital firm AggregateIQ, which played an important role in the official Vote Leave campaign in Britain's referendum on EU membership. He said he helped set up AggregateIQ and touted its powerful targeted ads.


WYLIE: They are incredibly effective. They are incredibly effective. I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome in the referendum, you know, had there not been, in my view, cheating.

KAKISSIS: In a blog post Vote Leave's campaign director, Dominic Cummings, called Wiley, quote, "a fantasist charlatan" and dismissed his testimony. Charles Kriel, who advises the parliamentary committee examining this issue, says lawmakers want to understand the relationship between these small data mining companies and social media giants like Facebook.

CHARLES KRIEL: We're talking about data now. And suddenly there's a whole world of regulation that can be introduced around data, and the use of data, and the exploitation of data, and who owns the data, and how is data transferred from one company to another?

KAKISSIS: With Facebook shares plummeting, Zuckerberg has promised to improve privacy and better inform the platform's users on what their data is being used for. But cybersecurity expert Emily Taylor points out that Facebook could just shut off data access to third parties and instead hoard the data for itself.

EMILY TAYLOR: What if in the future Mark Zuckerberg decided to run for president of the United States? How would you rate his odds given what he knows?

KAKISSIS: Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before Congress on the data breach involving his company and Cambridge Analytica. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MY EPIC'S "LITURGY (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.