Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch apparently offered false testimony before a congressional committee last year when asked about his company’s ability to access individual users’ personal profiles without their knowledge, according to LawAndCrime.com.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana grilled the attorney when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, asking if Facebook employees can access users’ “likes,” friends, places they have been, schools they attended, and other personal data, without their permission.
Kennedy began his questioning by asking Stretch, “Do you have a profile on me?”
“Senator, if you’re a Facebook user, we would permit you to be targeted with an advertisement based on your characteristics and your likes along with other people who share similar characteristics and your likes along with other people who share,” Stretch replied.
Kennedy then took his line of questioning a step further, asking if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as an example, wanted to view all personal information collected by the social media platform on someone like South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, could the CEO do so?
“The answer is absolutely not,” Stretch said. “We have limitations in place on our ability to review the person’s…”
“I’m not asking about your rules,” Kennedy interjected. “I’m saying, you have the ability to do that, don’t you?”
The Facebook attorney responded emphatically: “Senator, the answer is no. We’re not able.”
Kennedy was incredulous, shooting back: “You can’t put a name to a face to a piece of data? You’re telling me that?”
“So we have designed our systems to prevent exactly that, to protect the privacy of our users,” Stretch said.
Kennedy circled back one last time: “That’s your testimony under oath?”
“Yes, it is,” came the answer.
According a piece in the Wall Street Journal published late last week, however, certain Facebook employees do have the ability to access individual users’ personal profiles without their knowledge.
Sauron is a reference to the all-seeing eye in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
A Facebook spokesman told the Journal that the company has had discussions about issuing these types of alerts to all outside users.
“In thinking about how we could do something similar for everyone, there are a number of important considerations that come into play — for example, how we can avoid tipping off bad actors or hindering our work to prevent real-world harm in cases of abuse or other sensitive situations,” the spokesman said.
“The ability to log into Facebook as a user without needing that person’s password is limited to a small group of security personnel and other employees,” the Journal reported. “Their actions are closely monitored, current and former employees say.”
Paavo Siljamäki, a director at the record label Anjunabeats and part of the dance music group Above & Beyond, wrote in a Facebook post that he witnessed a Facebook engineer access his account first hand three years ago.
Siljamäki recounted that he gave his permission to the engineer, but nothing else.
“A Facebook engineer can then log in directly as me on Facebook seeing all my private content without asking me for the password,” he wrote. “Just made me wonder how many of Facebook’s staff have this kind of ‘master’ access to anyone’s account?”
LawAndCrime.com said it reached out to Facebook for comment about the apparent falsehood in Stretch’s testimony, but received no response.
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