Facebook Sends `Excuses' to U.K. Lawmakers Instead of CEO

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. sent "excuses" to British lawmakers investigating the impact of social media on recent elections, after an earlier effort to answer their questions was deemed unsatisfactory.

The social-networking giant again refused to send Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to appear before the committee, following threats of a formal summons.

"While Mr Zuckerberg has no plans to meet with the committee or travel to the U.K. at the present time we continue to fully recognise the seriousness of these issues and remain committed to working with you," Rebecca Stimson, Facebook U.K. Head of Public Policy said in a letter sent to the committee this week, made public Tuesday.

Facebook was responding to Damian Collins, head of the committee investigating fake news, who requested more information after he was unimpressed by earlier answers from the social network’s Chief Technology Officer, Mike Schroepfer.

In a statement accompanying the publication of Facebook’s response Tuesday, the lawmaker said that "given that these were follow up questions to questions Mr. Schroepfer previously failed to answer, we expected both detail and data, and in a number of cases got excuses."

Facebook said it was “disappointed after providing a very significant amount of information to the Committee at the last hearing the Committee declared our response insufficient.”

The letter did answer several questions British lawmakers had raised. For example, it provided information that AggregateIQ, the Canadian data analytics firm, spent about $2 million on Facebook ads for pro-Brexit campaign groups, including Vote Leave ($1.6 million) and BeLeave ($329,000). The letter also stated fake accounts associated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency spent about $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads between June 2015 and August 2017.

Collins was seeking answers to queries such as how many U.K. Facebook and Instagram account holders were contacted by non-U.K. entities during the EU referendum, whether Facebook passed user information to Cambridge Analytica or to researcher Aleksandr Kogan, and who at Facebook was responsible for the decision not to tell users their data may have been compromised back in 2015.

The social network didn’t directly answer the first point, but did confirm that it "did not pass user information gathered by Dr. Kogan’s app to Cambridge Analytica." It didn’t name any single individual as being responsible for not telling users about the risks in 2015, but said "an outside law firm" was hired to "investigate and take action against" Kogan.

Since the revelation in mid-March that Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct political ad consulting firm, got data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their consent, governments in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe have been grilling executives, industry insiders, and whistle-blowers to understand exactly how much information the company collects on people and what they do with it.

In addition to Schroepfer, Kogan has given evidence in Britain, as has former Facebook employee Sandy Parakilas. Zuckerberg answered questions during a U.S. congressional hearing, but has so far refused to appear before U.K. lawmakers, technically running the risk of being locked up in a bell tower as a result.

In providing answers to some of the 39 questions British lawmakers felt Schroepfer was unable to properly address, Facebook is hoping to appease some of the harsher critics present during the CTO’s hearing on April 26. One of the most heated exchanges that day came between Julian Knight and Schroepfer. The Conservative minister said Facebook was a "morality-free zone," destructive to privacy, and not an innocent party that was wronged by Cambridge Analytica. "Your company is the problem," he said at the time.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.