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CNBC Transcript: Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee


Following is the transcript of a CNBC interview with Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Karen Tso, Joumanna Bercetche, and Arjun Kharpal. The interview was broadcast on CNBC's Street Signs on 28 March 2018.

DC: Yes so we've said that we'd be happy for Chris Cox the chief product officer of Facebook to come and give evidence. He is a far more senior figure from the company that's ever given evidence to Parliament before. But actually we think these issues are so serious and they affect not just the way individual products work but in many -- the culture of the company, its attitude towards the data of the users who use the platform that the most appropriate person is the person who in a way is the kind of beating heart of the company that its founder Mark Zuckerberg. So we would like him to come. We will be writing to him again today just to confirm, is he declining to attend or would he be prepared to come because in the company's response it wasn't clear whether he was actually declining to attend, he was merely suggesting someone else in his place. But as I said we'd be very happy to see Mr. Cox but we think Mark Zuckerberg should come as well.

KT: It's curious how you note the seriousness of this situation but you didn't get much support yesterday from prime minister Theresa May about Mark Zuckerberg's appearance and I think this is quite interesting because Facebook is a company that has pledged to invest in the U.K. in the height of all the Brexit uncertainty, bringing 800 jobs to the UK. So is digital and data a sacrifice that the government is willing to make to try and secure business now with Brexit unfolding?

DC: Why I think she was she was very clear yesterday that the company have to cooperate with the inquiry and they need to make sure they can fully answer the questions we put to them because this is a very serious matter and the prime minister was very clear about that yesterday. Today the Secretary of State for Digital Media, Matt Hancock, has also said he thinks it would be appropriate for Mark Zuckerberg to come and the government have given their full backing to our inquiry so far. So I think there's there's very clear support for Mark Zuckerberg appearing and for Facebook doing more to fully cooperate and answer the questions that we've put to them. Many of the issues that we've been discussing in the last 10 days about Cambridge Analytica, about data breaches, use of personal data, what you can do to recover data if it's being misused, we put all those questions to Facebook in our hearing with them in Washington last month and we didn't get adequate or clear answers then. We now know a lot more about how serious these issues are and we have a lot more questions for the company.

JB: I'd like to ask you about the ramifications. We've heard from the FTC in the US and they've said that that the ramifications could be as much as forty thousand dollars per violation; we're talking about 50 million users here, that adds up to about two trillion dollars charge for Facebook if they go ahead. I just wonder on your part if Facebook are found to have breached data security rules, what are the ramifications in the UK?

DC: So under the new Data Protection Bill currently going through Parliament that would give the Information Commissioner the power to levy a a charge of a 4 percent fine against global revenues. So for a company like Facebook that is potentially an extremely large fine but we're also looking at a further change to the law, which I would certainly support, I know others in parliament would as well, which is not just a fine, but to give the Information Commissioner, our data regulator, the power to go into big tech companies and actually take the data that they need to complete their investigations as well. I think that would for the first time mean that there was some entity that has got the power to go behind the curtain and check that the tech companies are actually complying with data protection law. So far in the past we've largely been reliant on them correctly responding to information notices and telling the authorities what they need to know. The authorities haven't necessarily had the power to go in and see for themselves that they're actually complying fully. So I think that reform is important but we're certainly moving into a new era in the UK of the potential for much larger fines to be levied against tech companies.

AK: Damian, it's Arjun here. I wanted to ask what do you make of Facebook's response so far? They took a while to bring any senior executive to the front line, they have announced changes, of course, to the way that they're going to allow more users to see what data is being stored, how that data is being used and what apps are having access to the data. Do you think their response so far has been enough?

DC: To be honest with you the changes they've announced since this story broke last week and that Mark Zuckerberg discussed last week in his interview.

To be honest with you I think that's probably stuff that we're working on anyway. A lot of it a lot of stuff they would need to have done to be compliant with the new European data protection laws known as GDPR. So I'm not convinced how much of that was actually really new stuff. I think that the company was very reluctant to engage in improper questions and answers during our inquiry and certainly when we started it towards the end of last year. I think they have got more co-operative because they can see that this is these are really big issues for Facebook users and there is a problem now the company has in declining trust amongst users for Facebook as a source of information and also a company that will keep their data safe. So I think they recognise that they have to step up to the plate and be more transparent, be more open with these inquiries. I've discussed this with people working in the Senate and I discussed it with Senators Mark Warner and Richard Burr when I was in Washington last month. And they certainly shared our frustrations that it has been difficult to bring the company to the table. But I think they are looking to cooperate now in a way they didn't before.

AK: Has this Facebook episode made you suspicious at all of many of the other big U.S. tech firms that are using data as a core to their business models as well?

DC: Yeah but I think obviously these issues are not just questions for Facebook but the spotlight has fallen on them. It's about how all companies gather and use data. I think there are two things that I think you can, consumers and users are really focused on in the last 10 days or so, which are, which is firstly just how much data is being gathered about them, and certainly the fact that if you have a Facebook app on your smartphone that gathers not just data about Facebook but it logs your calls and and gathers data from other things that you do as well, I don't think people understood how much data was being taken. And then with the data security breach, the concern there is that data isn't necessarily safe. I think people might have understood that the apps that you use the services that use like Twitter and Facebook gather information about you to improve the service they offer to you. Not that data can be taken from them by a third party and then given to a fourth party to be used in a way that you never consented for. So, I think these broader issues are issues for the whole tech sector about the way in which data is collected from users and then use to develop new products.

KT: Damian, before I let you go I want to ask you about the impact on democracy because there were all sorts of concerns that a number of tech companies and tech experts were using Brexit in the referendum as a real test about the might of some of the analytics and what they could do in terms of driving decisions in one way. Are you concerned that the referendum, that Brexit, was compromised by technology?

DC: Well this is obviously that will be a concern. It's something that's being investigated by both the Information Commissioner in terms of data breaches and the Electoral Commission in terms of whether any election laws were broken, so that is important. But there is a bigger debate now about the way in which data is used in elections. There are some people say that data has always been used to some extent but we're in a very different world now where people can be targeted with messages, they can receive thousands of thousands of messages from organizations and it's where it's not even clear who the advertiser really is. They can be through social media made to believe that opinions are widely shared by all the people that use the service because they only see largely what they and their friends interact with. This is a different form of campaigning and I think it's not just making sure that the data laws and the election laws are being adhered to but also that there's a more there is a greater degree of transparency than there's been so far, so it's much clearer to people who is sending them that message and therefore they can be a better judge themselves of whether that's a message that they trust.

AK: Damian, a final from me – given their concern about the amount of data being collected by many of these big firms will you be asking any other large technology companies to come and speak to your committee?

DC: Well we've already spoken with with Google and YouTube and Twitter as part of our inquiry and we'll be looking to hold further evidence sessions after the Easter recess. And we have not at the moment decided to call other tech companies but we may well do.


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