Without stronger regulation, Facebook could become a threat to democracy, according to the former head of GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA.
In an interview with the BBC, Robert Hannigan warned that the social network is more concerned about profiting from users’ data than "protecting your privacy".
"This isn't a kind of fluffy charity providing free services,” he said. “It's is a very hard-headed international business and these big tech companies are essentially the world's biggest global advertisers, that's where they make their billions.”
Asked whether Facebook is a threat to democracy, the former security chief replied: "Potentially yes. I think it is if it isn't controlled and regulated.”
Facebook and its leadership are coming under intense scrutiny at the moment amid widespread concerns about the spread of fake news on the platform and the tech giant’s handling of user data.
In the U.K., Damian Collins, chairman of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently took the highly unusual step of sending a sergeant-at-arms from the legislative body to demand Facebook-related documents from app developer Six4Three. The documents, which are under seal in the U.S., are part of an ongoing lawsuit in California between Facebook and the Six4Three.
The tech giant allegedly gave advertisers special access to user data, according to the trove of documents and emails, which was released this week by the U.K. Parliamentary Committee. Facebook says that the set of documents “tells only one side of the story and omits important context.”
The furor over the secret documents comes hot on the heels of a scathing New York Times report on the social network’s handling of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The New York Times report claims that, over a two-year period, the tech giant’s tactics were to “delay, deny and deflect,” as it came under scrutiny over Russian misinformation and the spread of hate speech on the platform. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg slammed the report.
Facebook’s relationship with a Republican opposition-research firm, Definers Public Affairs, has been also been in the spotlight following the Times report. The tech giant recently ended its relationship with Definers and denies asking the research firm to spread misinformation.
Earlier this week, the company’s board backed Sandberg’s handling of research on George Soros after she asked staff to conduct research on whether the billionaire and high-profile Facebook critic was shorting the company’s stock.
In January, Soros publicly slammed Facebook and Google, calling the tech giants a “menace” to society in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Soros has also given money to one of the ten organizations supporting Freedom from Facebook, an umbrella activist group pushing for the company to broken up by spinning off its various business units.
In a separate move, U.K. lawmakers recently urged advertisers to consider boycotting tech giant such as Google and Facebook until they deal with terrorist content on their platforms.