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Facebook refuses to disclose “chuck Chequers” Brexit advertiser to UK parliament (techcrunch.com)
77 points by rbanffy 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

From the article, Facebook already disclosed this information to the government via the Information Commissioner's Office who is free to share with parliament.

From their refusal letter: "You will appreciate that it would be inappropriate to provide personal data of our users to any third party absent a lawful basis for such disclosure."

I think this makes sense, today it's about this advertiser, but if they set this precedent, what is stopping them from requesting information on their competitors in their next election?

The competitors are supposed to have provided that information in the first place. As should all participants in the election.

> what is stopping them from requesting information on their competitors in their next election?

Plus equally important is it chilling the political speech of their opponents out of fear of state retribution.

What state retribution do you envisage?

Democracy would be in a worse place if there was no accountability.

I'm as staunch a defender of free speech as anyone, but at least take ownership of the things you are freely saying.

In this day and age of ruined lives and careers over a tweet, the need for anonymous speech is greater than it has been in a long time.

There is also something to be said for separation of concerns.

If the CEO of Ford was gay or pro-choice, should she be deterred from supporting such causes because many of the people who buy Ford trucks have contrary opinions?

And being forced to support marginalized causes in public rather than in private will de fact out you as a member of that class. Which means less support for marginalized people, by the full measure of what they could get in private but not in public.

Moreover, what is knowing the source of money supposed to get you? If you see some "climate change is a hoax" rhetoric, you don't need a paper trail to know who is behind it, and the answer in any case is to disprove it rather than ad hom the funding source.

> And being forced to support marginalized causes in public rather than in private will de fact out you as a member of that class.

Not at all necessarily - this is what allyship is all about.

> ad hom the funding source

Some funding sources may be illegal, and I would hope that tracing advertising to foreign intelligence agencies would do something to discredit it.

> Not at all necessarily - this is what allyship is all about.

That doesn't really work. It means that you have to disguise support for your cause by spending most of your resources to support several other causes which may themselves already have more support than yours.

Moreover, "mix your money into a pool of money from other people that then goes where you want it without anyone being able to tell who sent what where" is basically how money laundering works. If that is allowed then you might as well abandon the pretense of tracing the money to begin with, because the "bad guys" will just do the same thing.

> Some funding sources may be illegal, and I would hope that tracing advertising to foreign intelligence agencies would do something to discredit it.

That is still basically an ad hominem attack. If the Russians get hold of Clinton's emails and release them, the fact that it was the Russians releasing them doesn't do much to disprove that she wrote them.

Moreover, if the funding source is a foreign intelligence agency, it's not as if they're going to file a disclosure statement saying "Funding Source: KGB" instead of using the name of a cutout. You have to prove it was them using some other means than what they disclosed, which makes the disclosure requirement pretty useless at catching the bad guys while still imposing real costs on people who are not doing anything wrong.

"you don't need a paper trail to know who is behind it"

don't you? It could be that ethical supermarket that you shop at because you think it shares your values.

"If the CEO of Ford...." I suppose as an investor, theres a good case to be made that you should know the true opinions of the CEO. If they say in public they're neutral on gay rights, shouldn't you expect them to behave that way. I'm not a lawyer so I'm not sure how that would play out.

Note I am a bit unsatisfied with the thought police aspect of that line of reasoning though.

Are you making reference to tweets a future famous person made as a teenager, or people saying inappropriate things in the here and now?

The former, I have sympathy, and we probably need to get better as a society at dealing with it. The latter not so much, especially if you're paying for your podium.

What's wrong with requesting information on competitors?

What issue is this stuff being out in the open?

If its hidden on the other hand, how do you enforce financing limits, hold people to account for inaccurate advertising, check that Russia isn't trying to influence your election.

And looking at it from the other side, if you don't want people to know you're funding political adverts, why not?

> I think this makes sense, today it's about this advertiser, but if they set this precedent, what is stopping them from requesting information on their competitors in their next election?

What's wrong with that?

This information should be publicly available. If you're running political advocacy ads, your funding sources and the ads you run should be available to all for review.

The committee wasn't asking for all the information to be available, just specific information on some group promoting an idea they oppose. If the UK wants everything to be public they need only pass a law to do so and Facebook will comply.

That law exists.

Important background: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_fil...

All "election material" in the UK is required to carry an imprint saying who published it. Either the unknown advertiser here or Facebook themselves are probably breaking the law, although up until now this has not been well-enforced on websites.

This law exists to prevent British politics being flooded by unaccountable lies, and this seems to have broken down quite badly just now. In fact, I don't think there was more than a tiny amount of political Facebook advertising carried out by third parties prior to 2010 elections.

That only strictly applies during the regulated period of a campaign. As there isn't presently a relevant election ongoing and there isn't a candidate or referendum vote that it is directly promoting, they don't technically have to have an imprint.

Now, that's not remotely to say that imprint law isn't flouted during campaigns, I've absolutely seen literature going out that looked very like (though couldn't be proved as) party-distributed literature trying to influence an election but which didn't contain an imprint. But, this isn't a breach of that particular law.

Interesting, thanks.

It looks from that document like Facebook is fine; the 'social media' section is about the obligations of posters to handle their own imprinting, and the fact that a shortened link to the imprint suffices means there doesn't need to be a requirement for an on-platform imprint. Presumably it's the same rationale as not adding the printer's info to a newspaper advertisement; the 'printer' is obviously the platform running the ad.

I suppose the alternative argument is that social media posts, like newspaper ads, use Facebook as their printer, but using Facebook tools to run an ad campaign targeting a segment of voters renders Facebook the promoter for a group and therefore responsible. Of course, that wouldn't create an obligation to disclose to the committee today; if the accusation sticks the offense has already happened.

if there is anybody out there working at facebook who has access to the info and can pass it on over tor, then I'm all ears. I'd be happy to put this out into the public for you. My ricochet id is in my profile.

Edit: The best person to send this to is actually Carole Cadwalladr. But she has unfortunately no set-up that wouldn't eventually get you in hot water.

All they need to do is get a warrant/subpoena or the British equivalent. Why would Facebook agree to give out user info voluntarily?

Hasn't the British parliament that kind of power already? From what I understood, they got documents from the Six4Three/Facebook lawsuit by telling someone they would be in contempt of parliament.

The Parliament does have that power, yes. I don't know if the committee does and has used it, though - hence the exec saying:

"in the event that Facebook receives a request for personal data from an entity which can legally require such information, Facebook will provide information in line with normal procedures. "

> Why would Facebook agree

You are talking about Facebook higher-ups. Who on the face of it, have to abide by the law.

The OP said:

> if there is anybody out there working at facebook who has access to the info

He's talking about an activist/whistle-blower working at facebook who may have access. Who undercover can leak information.

Totally different things here.

you need media pressure first. The initial reluctance to probe Arron Banks indicates that.

On the other hand, if you work at facebook and send private user data to some anonymous source just like that, I hope they sue you out of existence.

Well, but it's not private user data, is it? (If it was I would agree with you)

There should be no secrecy in political advertisement funding.

Nah man, I'm sure he's a cool dude. If he's a cool dude, isn't that an adequate reason to violate both your employment contract and the privacy agreement FB has with its users?

It is funny to read that comment. It reminds me of that time Dennis Rodman tweeted out for the Kim Jong Un to "do me a solid" and release an American prisoner.

But then didn't the prisoner get released?


Could you please not do this here? We're trying for somewhat better than internet median on this site.


> anybody out there working at facebook

That access would certainly be tracked and the person punished very quickly. Facebook takes user data breaches very seriously.

"Facebook employees, if you're listening, I hope you can find the missing identity. That'd be great."

I don't think we need to go full wikileaks on this yet. Worse, I don't think leaking the answer would make any difference even if you found an invoice to Mr V Putin.

I would not expect that individuals (advertisers) would be named here. Even if it leads to a specific person it might just be an employee that registered the campaigns. But if it can be proven that the campaign was paid by say a Maltese, Guernsey or Cypriot Ltd or anywhere else impossible to trace, it would provide additional corroborative evidence (to what is already known about the Banks shell companies like "Ural properties") and drive home that large parts of the Leave campaign was funded with dork-money. In case the whole effort hits an offshore wall of silence it wouldn't matter. The case that the whole campaign was illegal would still be strengthened by the info.

Yeah, her credibility is a bit shot at the moment. Probably not the best:


Massively politically skewed source you are referencing there. Multiple problems, like typically no attempt at separation of opinion from fact.

And in this case even if this was a reliable source there's nothing there to undermine Cadwalladr's credibility: it's accusing her of being impolite, not incompetent or dishonest.

Far right rumor websites aren't the best for credibility either.

It's about as far right as the Guardian is far left.

"It is now a matter for ICO (acting in accordance with its statutory duties) to determine what they will do with the data provided to them,” Allan adds"

Are Facebook trying to taunt the ICO into breaking the GDPR provision for legal basis?

I think we're past the point where differences in political opinion can be aired without fear of violent retaliation.

The UK had a live-fire civil war until the late 90s. Violence has long been marginalised, but it's always there on the edge and as a possibility (police or demonstrators) at every demo.

Not only that, but the live-fire civil war was to do with the region at the heart of the current Brexit deal dispute: Northern Ireland, and its border with Ireland.

An MP (Jo Cox) was murdered (I don't think it's too strong to say assassinated) during the Brexit campaign.

...by someone with a mental illness.

The court ruled that he was sane at the time of the murder, and it was extremely pre-meditated. And incited by all the far right material he had been reading.

Mental illness doesn't comprehensively eliminate culpability. The mental illness would have to explain why the act wasn't murder. Such as: the defendant was unable to foresee the act would cause death; the defendant believed they were acting in self defence.

In this case someone with a history of mental illness still premeditated to commit a political assassination.

He murdered her for a reason: he was a violent racist. His defense never maintained that he was insane and a judge determined that it was an ideologically-motivated murder.


"He had searched the internet for information about the British National Party, apartheid, the Ku Klux Klan, prominent Jewish people, matricide,white supremacism, Nazism, Waffen SS, Israel, public shootings, serial killers, William Hague, Ian Gow (another assassinated MP), and Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik (about whose case he collected newspaper clippings)."

He also happened to be mentally ill, but that hardly seems relevant. Suppose Hitler was bipolar (he wasn't, but suppose he was), that would hardly be exculpatory.

It's always weird to see people talk like the UK politics have suddenly become tense and high stakes in the last few years. Brexit, for all the anger, is not what "expect violent retaliation for airing your views" looks like. Last time there was a major schism over UK authority, that did happen, and it involved death squads.

I suspect a lot of the people who think "expect violent retaliation for airing your views" is in any way new turn out to be racists who aren't used to being called on it.

No-bullshit link: https://outline.com/ZEdxXN

"Facebook has refused to provide the British parliament with the names of individuals behind a shadowy network backing an extreme ‘no deal’ Brexit outcome over a government-negotiated compromise."

Good? Why on earth should governments be allowed to pressure companies to disclose who is advertising on their platform? It's not like this company is breaking into people's houses and forcing them to do things at gun point, they're just running ads. Honestly, if an ad can convince people that your position is bunk, maybe it's not that great of a position to begin with.

You don't want a company to abide by the law of the lands in which it operates? Political advertising is regulated in many countries.

So why would you draw a distinction with breaking into a house? The only difference is they have not chosen to break that law, yet.

Not liking the law is an entirely different matter.

They are abiding with the law, though. They have been asked for information and replied that they don't just give out information because people ask - essentially they said 'come back with a warrant.' That's perfectly reasonable.

It would be if the select committee system were an organ of the police. They are not, and warrants are not required.

Ok, so the select committee system questions have compulsory answers?

In the US, the committee would have to subpoena in order to legally force the answer. Is that not the case here?

The Constitutional Society wrote an 86-page paper in 2012 attempting to show that any such powers are extinct, and that primary legislation is necessary to restore them: https://www.consoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Select-...

But late last year, a select committee exercised these powers anyway: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/nov/24/mps-seize...

The question is one of enforcement. Parliament can certainly order the production of documents, and send the Serjeant-at-Arms to threaten consequences if the documents aren't provided. That was enough in November to get the documents coughed up (one suspects that the target in that case had no particular incentive to test the limits of constitutional authority, given it wasn't his secrets he was being coerced over - a good excuse for handing them over would seem to be enough).

What's not abundantly clear is if Parliament can actually still carry through its threat of imprisonment for contempt, if the recipient of the order decides to face down the Serjeant. It's possible that the courts would swiftly issue a writ of Habeas Corpus on the basis that contempt of Parliament is defunct.

It's also possible that the European Court of Human Rights would consider legislative proceedings for contempt to be a breach of the Convention, but as actions of Parliament are outside the reach of the Human Rights Act (which makes the Convention directly applicable in the UK) they have no way of enforcing the decision even if they made it - and it would take months at least to get to the front of the queue.

If you are legally required to disclose X and you don’t disclose X, a committee would not need to get a subpoena to force you to do so. The difference is that you’re required to share this information from the beginning, not being asked to do so later.

Loosely yes. Refusing to answer can lead to you being in contempt of parliament. Once upon a time there was even a prison cell in parliament for use in such cases.

Unfortunately our oversight committees depend on some fairly ancient ways and powers. Hence the cute story a few months ago of the parliamentary bailiff, which is normally a purely ceremonial role, arresting that Six Three guy passing through the UK.

Perhaps those ancient laws need modernising, as there's certainly a few relics among them. Then again it is only fairly recently they have been started to be treated with contempt.

>if an ad can convince people that your position is bunk, maybe it's not that great of a position to begin with.

I disagree. Ideas are powerful and propaganda, media, and advertisement are powerful idea spreaders. This power is totally irrelevant to whether or not the idea is moral, realistic, or even just factually true

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the antivax movement is restricted to a handful of cranks.

Political advertising is regulated in the UK.

This seems like a great example as to why that's a bad idea.

That sentence makes no sense.

Only during campaigns.

This sword cuts both ways. The Remain campaign completely blew the legally mandated spending limits for campaigning in a single mailshot to every home in Britain, let alone things like unbilled time of the civil service. They spent far, far more money than the Leave campaign did.

This, we are told, is OK, because the spending happened a few weeks before the official campaigning period began, and thus the usual rules about political advertising did not apply.

Well, if these rules being applied to the letter can let the Remain campaigners flout the spirit of the spending rules (which is fine by me - that's the point of written rules) then for sure, this campaign also doesn't have to follow any of those rules, as it's outside the election / referendum controlled periods.

> The Remain campaign completely blew the legally mandated spending limits for campaigning in a single mailshot to every home in Britain

As benj111 points out, it was the _Government_, not the Remain campaign. Different rules apply to them (they are prohibited from campaigning _at all_ during the 28 days prior to the referendum). Furthermore, a large percentage of distribution (to England) was done at a spend time when the spending rules did not apply at all (which to my understanding means the Leave campaign could have _also_ spend more during that time).

> They spent far, far more money than the Leave campaign did.

This is an exaggeration. The cost of the mailshot was £9.3m[1] - the Leave campaign could spend up to £7m (in the regulated time - as above, I believe it is unlimited outside of that), with UKIP a further £4m (and other groups could spend up to £700k). More, yes, as the Remain campaign could _also_ spend up to £7m, but "far, far more" feels like an overstatement.

[1] http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7...

This is sophistry - the Remain campaign was the government. It was the official position of the government and the entire thing was organised by them. There was simply no distinction between them at all.

Again, people here are finding ways to excuse behaviour for their favoured team based on legalistic readings of the rules. Which is fine, if it's applied consistently. Of course it isn't because the goal here is not to be fairly applying campaigning rules, but rather to try and stop the UK leaving the EU via any means possible.

The government sent out that mailshot, not the remain campaign.

Same with the unbilled civil service time.

During an election should the incumbent party be billed for all the extra security for the Prime Minister, Chancellor etc?

We have party politics, sometimes its hard/impossible to separate government from party.

Because in order to make an informed choice in a democracy there are regulations in place to ensure spending limits and puts an identity on political advertising.

An example of what you don't want is the heavy investment in Brexit and Trump by Russia

Heavy? I thought it they only found ~$20 million ad spending by Russians. When either side spent a billion dollar.

I don't know what the breakdown is for Brexit spending, but $20m would be heavy in a UK context. The official Leave/Remain campaigns could only spend £7m each.

How do you know, if there isn't transparency?

I don't care who invests in advertising. If someone has something to say, they should be allowed to say it and I as the reader can decide for myself if I agree or not. I don't need to government doing that for me.

Do you think advertising works, to influence outcomes? (There are a lot of people betting enormous sums of money that it does.)

Should hostile nation states be allowed to advertise anonymously to influence electoral outcomes?

Do you think the people should get a say in whether hostile nations get to influence electoral outcomes?

The government is the agent of the people.

Everything that you've ever encountered has made some tiny impression on you. Advertising is a "weaponized" process that aims to force a set of impressions on people where the agents behind it think that they know how those impressions will alter their behavior. Even if you think that you are not influenced by advertising -- though you certainly are in some way, since you are experiencing it -- you have to see that unregulated media platforms are magnifying all kinds of kookiness.

And if a politician makes specific political promises to specific populations which are contradictory? Or if an ad company sends you lies proportional to the amount of bullshit you are analytically predicted to receive? Or if a foreign government with clear malicious motives want to spew chaos by posing controversial chaos and inciting arguments between two populations?

No Deal Brexit isn't extreme, but good effort on trying to shift the Overton Window.

According to the Government's Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on 29 March 2019 document:

> This estimates that the UK economy would be 6.3-9% smaller in the long term in a no deal scenario (after around 15 years) than it otherwise would have been when compared with today’s arrangements, assuming no action is taken.

> Although our food supply is diverse, resilient, and sourced from a wide variety of countries, the potential disruption to trade across the Short Channel Crossings would lead to reduced availability and choice of products.

> HMRC has estimated that the administrative burden on businesses from customs declarations alone, on current (2016) UK-EU trade in goods could be around £13bn p.a.

That feels pretty extreme to me.


I don't think you can infer whether something is politically extreme or not off the back of piss poor planning.

In general, no, but at this point _continuing_ to advocate for a No Deal Brexit is extreme.

What is more extreme? Firing off a few farewell missiles?

A no deal Brexit is literally the most extreme Brexit. There is nothing more 'Brexity'.

Having a Brexit that is Brexity is entirely the point, no? What is the point of a Brexit that is a bit Brexity?

Well most of the current predicament is that it was never decided how Brexity the Brexit should be, I don't think it follows that just because we voted for a Brexit, we should jump off the deep end and go for the most extreme version.

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