Facebook Tried Lobbying Leaders Against Data Protection: Report

Documents reveal that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg considered Data Protection as a threat to the company.

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A report has revealed that Facebook targeted politicians from several countries around the world, promising investment and incentives in order to pressure them into lobbying on Facebook's behalf against data privacy laws. This was reported by the Observer and Computer Weekly, citing documents from a court case against Facebook in California.

According to a report in The Guardian, the documents obtained by The Observer and Computer Weekly include details of how Facebook lobbied politicians across Europe in a strategic attempt to head off GDPR legislation, used chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ to "bond” with female European commissioners and threatened to withhold investment from countries unless they supported or passed Facebook-friendly laws.

The documents from a court case against Facebook reveal that Sheryl Sandberg considered European Data Protection Legislation as a critical threat to the company.

In a memo written after the 2013 Davos Summit, it was revealed that the company enjoyed a "great relationship" with Enda Kenny, the then Prime Minister of Ireland. The memo says that Kenny appreciated Facebook's decision to locate its headquarters in Dublin and said that the proposed data protection legislation was a "threat to jobs, innovation and economic growth in Europe." It also goes on to say that Ireland is poised to take over EU presidency, which would have helped Kenny influence other EU member states.

The 2013 memo, which, according to The Guardian report, was written to Marne Levine, now a senior Facebook executive and was cc-ed to many politicians across the world including Kenny, US Senators and European Commissioners, then Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Michel Barnier, now EU’s Brexit Negotiator and George Osborne, former UK Chancellor.

George Osborne used the meeting with Sandberg to ask Facebook to invest in London’s Tech City. Sandberg, in return asked Osborne to become "more active and vocal in European Data Directive debate and help shape the proposals." The memo says Osborne asked for a detailed breifing, before saying he will figure out how to get more involved, The Guardian report said.

Osborne, when reached out to by The Observer, denied these allegations.

Osborne also helped launch Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’, which, according to the revealed memo, was also said to be used as a lobbying tool by Facebook, in order to gain the support of feminist legislators for Facebook’s agenda.

European Commissioner for Justice, fundamental rights and citizenship Viviane Reding, who is also said to be the 'architect of European Data Directive', was invited for the Lean In dinner, where Sheryl met with her, The Guardian further quoted the memo. Reding, however, was quoted as saying that she felt it was a "very American discussion' and it backfired a bit."

This reveal comes just when Facebook is buried under privacy investigations from across the world. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook had harvested sensitive medical data from apps on users' smartphones.

(With inputs from The Guardian and Computer Weekly.)

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