Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch may have not been completely truthful while under oath when taking questions in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 31, 2017.
Stretch was being grilled by Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) about the extent of Facebook’s ability to profile users on the social media website. Stretch told Kennedy that Facebook had done away with the ability of employees to compile or access profiles on individual users. Here’s a transcript of their relevant remarks:
Sen. Kennedy: Do you have a profile on me?
Stretch: 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–
Sen. Kennedy: Well, let’s do another one. Let’s suppose your CEO came to you, or not you, somebody who could do it in your company, maybe you could, and said, “I want to know everything we can know about Senator Graham. I want to know the movies he likes. I want to know the bars he goes to. I want to know who his friends are. I want to know what schools he went to.” You could do that, couldn’t you?
Stretch: So, I want to be—it is a very good question—the answer is absolutely not. We have limitations in place on our ability to review the person’s—
Sen. Kennedy: I’m not asking about your rules. I’m saying, you have the ability to do that, don’t you?
Stretch: Again, Senator, the answer is no. We’re not able—
Sen. Kennedy: You can’t put a name to a face to a piece of data? You’re telling me that?
Stretch: So we have designed our systems to prevent exactly that, to protect the privacy of our users.
Sen. Kennedy: I understand, but you can get around that to find that identity, can’t you?
Stretch: No senator, I cannot.
Sen. Kennedy: That’s your testimony under oath?
Stretch: Yes, it is.
Stretch’s assuredness puzzled many observers at the time. Others called Stretch out for those allegedly misleading comments. Even Vanity Fair wrote approvingly of Kennedy’s intensive questioning of Stretch. Now, it appears Stretch’s critics were correct in their estimation of his allegedly evasive comments.
A little-noticed late Thursday report in the Wall Street Journal notes:
A small group of Facebook Inc. employees have permission to access users’ profiles without the users finding out.
Yet any time a Facebook employee accesses a colleague’s personal profile, the colleague is notified through what is often referred to within the company as a Sauron alert—a reference to the all-seeing eye in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, people familiar with the matter say.
Similar protections don’t exist for the two billion-plus Facebook users who don’t work for the company, the people said.
Law&Crime reached out to Facebook for comment on this story. This space will be updated if and when a response is received.
Congressional perjury can result in up to five years in prison. Such prosecutions, however, are exceedingly unlikely in the United States.
Watch the full clip of the Kennedy-Stretch discussion courtesy of Facebook and C-SPAN above.
[image via screengrab/C-SPAN]
Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher
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