A leak of internal Facebook documents reveals that the company has conducted a global lobbying campaign to against data privacy legislation, targeting politicans around the world with promises of investments and incentives, according to The Guardian.
The documents, which have been seen by the Observer and Computer Weekly, reveal a secretive global lobbying operation targeting hundreds of legislators and regulators in an attempt to procure influence across the world, including in the UK, US, Canada, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and all 28 states of the EU. -The Guardian
Via The Guardian, Facebook:
• Lobbied politicians across Europe in a strategic operation to head off “overly restrictive” GDPR legislation. They include extraordinary claims that the Irish prime minister said his country could exercise significant influence as president of the EU, promoting Facebook’s interests even though technically it was supposed to remain neutral.
• Used chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s feminist memoir Lean In to “bond” with female European commissioners it viewed as hostile.
• Threatened to withhold investment from countries unless they supported or passed Facebook-friendly laws.
The documents in question appear to have leaked from a sealed California court case against Facebook by app developer Six4Three, which reveal that COO Sandberg felt that European data protection legislation was a "critical" threat to the company. Following the 2013 Davos economic summit, Sandberg described in a memo the "uphill battle" faced in Europe on the "data privacy front" regarding "overly prescriptive new laws."
"Friends of Facebook"
The leaked documents also reveal the company's "great relationship" with then-Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny - one of many prominent politicians described as one of the "friends of Facebook."
Ireland plays a key role in regulating technology companies in Europe because its data protection commissioner acts for all 28 member states. The memo has inflamed data protection advocates, who have long complained about the company’s “cosy” relationship with the Irish government.
The memo notes Kenny’s “appreciation” for Facebook’s decision to locate its headquarters in Dublin and points out that the new proposed data protection legislation was a “threat to jobs, innovation and economic growth in Europe”. It then goes on to say that Ireland is poised to take on the presidency of the EU and therefore has the “opportunity to influence the European Data Directive decisions”. It makes the extraordinary claim that Kenny offered to use the “significant influence” of the EU presidency as a means of influencing other EU member states “even though technically Ireland is supposed to remain neutral in this role”. -The Guardian
"The prime minister committed to using their EU presidency to achieve a positive outcome on the directive," reads the 2013 memo written by Facebook senior executive Marne Levine and cc'd to Elliot Schrage - Facebook's then-head of policy and global communications.
Kelly was one of dozens of other politicians mentioned by name - including several US senators and European commissioners such as Michel Barnier - now the EU's Brexit negotiator.
Facebook maintains that the leaked documents were "cherrypicked" and released in violation of a court order.
"Like the other documents that were cherrypicked and released in violation of a court order last year, these by design tell one side of a story and omit important context," said a spokesperson for the company.
Former UK Chancellor George Osborne used a meeting with Sandberg to ask Facebook to invest in the UK's Tech City venture, according to the memo. Sandberg, in reply, said she would "review" any proposal - asking Osborne to become "even more active and vocal in the European Data Directive debate and really help shape the proposals."
Osborne, according to the memo, asked for a detailed briefing and said he would "figure out how to get more involved." He then offered to host a launch for Sandberg's 2013 book tour in Downing Street.
In response to the memo, Osborne told the Observer: "I don’t think it’s a surprise that the UK chancellor would meet the chief operating officer of one of the world’s largest companies … Facebook and other US tech firms, in private, as in public, raised concerns about the proposed European Data Directive. To your specific inquiry, I didn’t follow up on those concerns, or lobby the EU, because I didn’t agree with them."
He noted it was “not a secret” that he had helped launch Sandberg’s book at 11 Downing Street and added: “The book’s message about female empowerment was widely praised, not least in the Guardian and the Observer.” -The Guardian
That said, "the memo reveals that Sandberg’s feminist memoir was perceived as a lobbying tool by the Facebook team and a means of winning support from female legislators for Facebook’s wider agenda."
According to the Guardian, Facebook's lobbying at Davos were just the tip of the iceberg in their overall campaign to use leverage against governments. For example, when Canada pushed back against a concession wanted by the company "Sheryl took a firm approach and outlined that a decision on the data center was imminent. She emphasized that if we could not get comfort from the Canadian government on the jurisdiction issue, we had other options."
Unsurprisingly, Canada caved to their request.