Internal documents lying Facebook has fought to keep
private obtained by UK Parliament
The cache of documents, some of
which may include correspondence between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and
company executives, stem from a lawsuit in California that outlines a
litany of allegations against Facebook. Among them: claims about the
company's alleged disregard for user privacy, and the claim that
Zuckerberg devised a plan that forced Facebook's rivals, or potential
rivals, out of business.
"We allege that Facebook itself is
the biggest violator of data misuse in the history of the software
industry," Ted Kramer, the owner of Six4Three, the company suing Facebook,
told CNN in an interview this summer.
Parliament obtained the documents days
before a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in London. Lawmakers from seven
countries will meet for what they're calling the inaugural "International
Grand Committee on Disinformation." Lawmakers had asked for Zuckerberg to
appear, but Facebook instead chose to send one of its CEO's deputies
The release of the documents to the
committee could raise new legal questions because a state court in
California ordered the material to be kept under seal.
Kramer told CNN he wants the US Federal
Trade Commission and attorneys general in the United States to investigate
the allegations Six4Three is making.
A Facebook spokesperson told CNN on Saturday
that Six4Three's lawsuit is without merit.
The internal documents were obtained by
Kramer's lawyers through discovery, a legal process in which one party to
a lawsuit can obtain evidence from the other.
The San Mateo Superior Court in California
ordered the documents remain under seal, meaning they should not be made
public by Six4Three.
However, last Monday, Damian Collins, a
member of Parliament who heads the parliamentary committee looking into
Facebook, wrote to Six4Three's Ted Kramer, asking for the documents.
Kramer was apparently in the United Kingdom
for work. The letter was sent to the central London hotel where Kramer was
staying, court documents reviewed by CNN show.
Facebook contacted the court in California
when it learned of Collins' request. On Tuesday, the judge in the case
ordered that no unredacted copies of the relevant sealed documents should
be released until further notice from the court, and that "failure to
comply will be considered an act of contempt."
The judge asked for both Facebook and
Six4Three to provide legal briefs on the consequences of Collins' request,
including what issues it may raise under the U.S. Constitution, and what
authority Collins' committee had to overrule the court's orders without
asking first. The briefs are scheduled to be submitted later this week.
On Friday night, one of Six4Three's lawyers,
Stuart Gross, confirmed to CNN that the British committee had obtained
materials from Six4Three that are under seal. It is not clear when the
documents were obtained. Gross said that Six4Three had asked the committee
to "refrain from reviewing them and to return them to counsel or to
Collins told CNN on Sunday that he was in
the process of reviewing the documents, "which are clearly highly
significant to the committee's inquiry and we will be making a statement
next week on how we intend to proceed."
The Facebook vice president due to appear at
Collins hearing wrote to the MP on Sunday, suggesting that Collins wait to
hear from the California judge before sharing the documents publicly
"I understand that Parliamentary privilege
protects participants for anything said during a hearing of your
committee. ... It may be helpful for us to discuss this matter again after
we have further guidance from the court," Richard Allan, Facebook VP of
policy solutions wrote.
newspaper in London reported
Saturday that the documents had been
seized after Kramer was escorted to Parliament after a sergeant-at-arms
appeared at Kramer's hotel. Kramer was told he risked fines and possible
imprisonment if he didn't hand over the documents. CNN has not
independently confirmed this.
Ian Lucas, a member of Parliament who sits
on Collins' committee, tweeted on Saturday night, "This week Facebook will
learn that all are subject to the rule of law. Yes, even them."
The legal fight
Six4Three, which has been engaged in a
yearslong legal battle with Facebook, were the makers of "Pikini," a
controversial app that allowed users to find pictures of their friends
The app did not breach Facebook's terms and
conditions when it was released in 2013. But in 2015 Facebook changed its
policies about how it shared information about its users with third-party
app developers such as those behind Pikini.
Prior to the change, Pikini and other app
developers were able to access information not only about their users, but
also about their users' Facebook friends, including users' friends'
When Facebook restricted access to friend
data, it destroyed Pikini's businesses, Six4Three alleges.
While a crude app that searched out bikini
photos, and which shut down years ago, might not be noteworthy on its own,
the fact that Six4Three has access to internal Facebook documents —
currently under court seal — is.
The little-known case attracted the interest
of major news organizations, including CNN and The Guardian, which filed a
joint court motion in June for the documents to be made public.
The motion referred to the Cambridge
Analytica scandal, which also deals with Facebook's prior practice of
allowing apps access to users' friends' data. "(G)iven the furor quite
rightly surrounding the Cambridge Analytica controversy, the public has an
immediate and overwhelming interest in understanding the facts surrounding
Facebook's data practices over time," the news organizations argued.
"The Guardian and CNN express no opinion on
the merits of the dispute," they added.
That motion, and other motions to unseal all
of the documents, were rejected by the court in October.
Pushback from Facebook
Facebook has consistently pushed back on
"Before their case was picked up by CNN,
this app's biggest accomplishment was being named 'one of the creepiest
apps ever,'" Natalie Naugle, Facebook's associate general counsel,
litigation, said in a statement provided to CNN in October. "Its creators
marketed the app as a way to look at pictures of women in bikinis. We made
changes to the platform in 2014 and we do not regret that this restricted
Six4Three's access to information."
Also in October, a Facebook spokesperson
provided CNN with
to a 2013 promotional video for Pikini, saying the company
wanted to make sure the public had "a clear picture of what Six4Three is
trying to defend." Facebook also said that the Pikini app had fewer than
Naugle, Facebook's lawyer, told CNN in a
statement last month that the company stood by its decision to ask for the
documents to be kept under seal. "Motions to seal are entirely commonplace
in litigation and are typically granted as a matter of course to respect
the confidentiality of internal discussions and the trade secrets their
disclosure may reveal. We believe Six4Three's claims are entirely
meritless," she said.
Speaking to CNN over the summer, Kramer
dismissed Facebook's portrayal of Pikini as creepy. He said the app was a
way for his company to gather a user base and develop its "sophisticated
visual pattern recognition algorithms." The ultimate goal of the company,
he said, was to "develop a business that you could look at photos and be
able to purchase clothing from looking at an image."
Kramer told CNN that he views his fight with
Facebook as a "David versus Goliath" battle.
"I think it's really important to understand
that they have fought tooth and nail to prevent this evidence from
becoming public which we believe the world should see. We believe everyone
should see this evidence because they have the right to know the truth,"