The House

Midweek podcast: Frustrations continue for international data committee

This week on the midweek podcast, U.K. Member of Parliament Jo Stevens talks about the continued struggles of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy to get answers from social media giants.
An empty chair sits behind the name tags for Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg as the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy waits to begin in Ottawa on Tuesday May 28, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode16:42

A U.K. Member of Parliament says social media companies' response to the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy was disappointing. 

Several international politicians gathered in Ottawa this week for a joint meeting to hear from the titans of the social media world. 

However, none of the specific executives they requested from Facebook, Twitter and others showed up — sending lesser officials in their stead, who were less equipped to answer questions. 

"I was very frustrated," Jo Stevens told The House.  "[That we] can't get people to actually be transparent and open and honest with us." 

Canadian MPs warned earlier this week that Facebook's top officials could be found in contempt of Parliament if they ignored a subpoena to testify. It remains to be seen if they will follow through on that threat. 

Facebook has argued it doesn't have the same responsibility as news organizations, since it's a platform and not a content creator. 

Stevens rejects that justification. 

 "I think that's a false case to make." 

The committee discussed the possibility of banning Facebook from certain countries until the company complied with certain standards. 

That notion came from former U.S. Facebook adviser Roger McNamee.

"At the end of the day, though, the most effective path to reform would be to shut down the platforms at least temporarily. …. Any country can go first. The platforms have left you no choice. The time has come to call their bluff," he told the committee. 

Stevens said it may be time to consider a step like that to regulate social media. 

"They're free to run amok and that's great if you've got people who've got good intentions, but we know there are people with bad intentions as well." 

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