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The great Facebook bikini app email caper

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Apologies for tonight's edition coming out so late — had an issue with my email provider. On Saturday
 
November 26 · Issue #252 · View online
The Interface
Apologies for tonight’s edition coming out so late — had an issue with my email provider.
On Saturday, the Observer published an article describing a rather incredible caper that took place in the United Kingdom. As part of an ongoing inquiry into fake news, Parliament seized a cache of documents obtained during legal discovery in a case mounted by an app developer against Facebook in an unrelated matter in the United States.
Carole Cadwalladr, who rose to prominence this year as one of the journalists who broke the Cambridge Analytica story, has the tale:
Damian Collins, the chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over the documents during a business trip to London. In another exceptional move, parliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it’s understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.
“We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”
What, exactly, might be of interest here? In the Wall Street Journal, Deepa Seetharaman catches us up on Six4Three and why it’s suing Facebook:
The Six4Three lawsuit stemmed from Facebook’s decision in 2014 to stop giving outside developers broad access to information about users’ friends. The move was a harsh blow to developers, forcing a number of apps to shut down, while Facebook argued it helped bolster user privacy.
Six4Three was the developer of an app called Pikinis, which allowed its users to find photos of Facebook users in bathing suits. It ceased operation in 2015 because of Facebook’s decision to curtail access to its users’ data, according to the lawsuit.
The 2014 changes were, of course, the ones designed to tamp down on the kind of invasive third-party data harvesting that would eventually come back to bite Facebook this year with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
What makes the seizure of documents strange is that so little of the Cambridge Analytica story is, at this late date, in dispute. We know what data was made available to third-party developers before 2014. We know Facebook gradually became uncomfortable with how these developers were exploiting its users. We know they deliberated about it internally and eventually shut off the spigot.
Seetharaman suggests that it is these deliberations that are of interest to Collins. And perhaps some spicy emails will see the light of day. But it’s hard to square the facts of the case with the way the document cache is presented in the Observer, which is as a development somewhere on the level of the Pentagon Papers.
And in any case, it remains unclear what 2014 data privacy discussions have to do with Collins’ inquiry, which is supposed to be investigating the impact of fake news. The inquiry, which began in 2017, produced an interim report in July. Perhaps the document cache will link data privacy and fake news. Or perhaps a politician is simply casting about looking for new cudgels with which to beat Facebook in front of television cameras.
Collins’ committee will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, and may discuss the cache of documents then. (Mark Zuckerberg was invited to go, and declined.) But as we waited for those internal communications to become public, a new court filing introduced a rather amazing twist.
Collins only got the documents because he was able to ascertain the hotel in which Ted Kramer, Six4Three’s managing director, was staying during a business trip to London. And who told him that? Ryan Mac has the story in BuzzFeed:
Although Kramer concedes he does not know how the DCMS committee knew where he was staying in London, he suggests in a 19-page court filing made on Monday that Carole Cadwalladr, a freelance reporter at British outlet the Observer, had tipped off the committee to his hotel address so that it could obtain the documents. Kramer and his lawyers did not immediately respond to his request for comment. Cadwalladr also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Damian Collins declined to comment. […]
The filing alleges that on November 17, 2018, during a phone conversation with Cadwalladr, Kramer told the reporter he would be on an unrelated business trip to London. According to the document, “she suggested they meet for her to receive another update on the case. Mr. Kramer agreed to meet with her at his hotel and sent her a calendar invitation with the address of the hotel.”
Standards for journalistic ethics vary widely from country to country. In the United States, it would typically be frowned upon for a reporter to tip off a government body that a foreign national and source was coming to town and might be in possession of documents useful in an ongoing inquiry. At the very least, such an arrangement would require a prominent disclosure from the journalist were she ever to write about the seizure of those documents.
In any case, it certainly seemed possible on Monday that the contents of the document cache would amount to less than the Observer suggested — and that the story of how Collins obtained it might amount to much more.

Democracy
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Is Tainted by Crisis After Crisis
Information Attacks against Democracies
Memo from a ‘Facebook nation’ to Mark Zuckerberg: You moved fast and broke our country.
Russia accuses Google of failing to remove links to banned sites
Google tightens political ad policies ahead of 2019 EU elections
Google flouting EU competition ruling, say rival price comparison sites
YouTube Lets California Fire Conspiracy Theories Run Wild
Beijing to Judge Every Resident Based on Behavior by End of 2020
America's Elite Universities Are Censoring Themselves on China
Elsewhere
No Refuge for Investors as 2018 Rout Sends Stocks, Bonds, Oil Lower
It’s Easy To Blame Online Rhetoric For Violence. The Reality Is Much Harder.
Internal Facebook memo sees outgoing VP of comms Schrage take blame for hiring Definers
Instagram’s new profile designs emphasize users instead of their follower count
Who could buy Discord? Acquirers have been giving the gaming startup a long look.
WhatsApp 'employee number 4' jumps ship
WhatsApp India head: Abhijit Bose to lead messaging platform in its biggest market
WhatsApp Is Changing the Way India Talks About Food
Here's How A Secret Meeting Of Twitter Execs And Indian Activists Caused A Caste Scandal
How Twitch CEO Emmett Shear thinks about tech addiction
Launches
Nothing launched today, as everyone was very tired from Thanksgiving.
Takes
Lean Out
Sheryl Sandberg Can’t Have It All
Do You Have a Moral Duty to Leave Facebook?
And finally ...
AI Mistakes Bus-Side Ad for Famous CEO, Charges Her With Jaywalking
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and secret document caches: casey@theverge.com.
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