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Facebook Acted Like ‘Digital Gangsters,’ British Parliament Says

Social network is criticized for overlooking user privacy in order to grow its ad business, according to U.K. lawmakers

Facebook has been allowed to act like “digital gangsters,” a blistering report from a British parliamentary committee said on Monday, by overlooking data privacy laws in order to expand its massive advertising business.

The report, put together over an 18-month period by the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, called for new laws to regulate the tech industry — something lawmakers both in the U.S. and abroad have been increasingly calling for since Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data leak was discovered last year.

“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the report said. Facebook, according to the report, has “intentionally and knowingly” skirted consumer-protection and digital privacy laws as its grown into a business pulling in more than $50 billion in revenue per year.

Facebook did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment, but a company spokesperson said it was open to “meaningful regulation” in a statement to The New York Times.

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” Karim Palant, a public policy manager for Facebook in the U.K., told The Times. “We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse.”

The committee used documents obtained by Six4Three, a small company that is suing Facebook in California after its app, which allowed friends to find pictures of their friends in bikinis, was decimated after Facebook changed its third-party sharing policies in 2015. The court documents, according to the committee, show Facebook was “willing to override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data” to app developers.

“Facebook’s handling of personal data, and its use for political campaigns, are prime and legitimate areas for inspection by regulators, and it should not be able to evade all editorial responsibility for the content shared by its users across its platforms,” the report added.

The report recommended the creation of a British watchdog to keep tabs on the entire tech industry. The committee doesn’t have the ability to create new laws, but chairman Damian Collins told The Times he hopes the recommendations are accepted by Parliament. The report comes at the same time Facebook is negotiating with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on a multi-billion settlement to close its investigation int privacy violations.

You can read the full report here.

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