A member of the UK parliament who recently ordered the seizure of a cache of internal Facebook documents has shown no signs of backing down.
Meanwhile, a California county judge is irked that documents that he ordered kept secret under a protective order have now been shared abroad.
The years-long legal dispute between Facebook and the tiny app company Six4Three has now intersected with an ongoing British investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices—resulting in a strange twist.
A new Monday court filing indicates that Six4Three’s managing director, Ted Kramer, met with MP Damian Collins in the parliamentarian’s London office on November 20. According to the filing, MP Collins told Kramer that he was in contempt of Parliament. There, Kramer “panicked” and began frantically searching his Dropbox account for relevant files obtained under civil discovery. He eventually copied some of them to a USB stick, which he gave to Collins.
“He did not open any of the files,” the Monday document states. “Mr. Kramer has not reviewed any documents designed highly confidential by Facebook at any time and was aware that his decision to turn over the documents to Mr. Collins went against the explicit statements by counsel in the above referenced communications.”
Collins is the chair of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Committee in the UK Parliament, which has been overseeing inquiries into Facebook’s practices. On November 16, the DCMS again asked Zuckerberg to appear before the committee via video. He has given no indication that he will do so.
According to (the British newspaper that broke the document disclosure story on Saturday), the materials “contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.”
The newspaper described how Kramer was confronted by a Parliament-dispatched sergeant-at-arms, who then seemingly escorted him back to Westminster.
A Collins spokeswoman, Anne Peacock, declined to confirm to Ars what reported as to how the documents were precisely obtained.
“The Committee will review the documents, and [it] expects to make a statement in the coming week about how it intends to proceed,” she emailed Sunday. “I can confirm Damian Collins’ comments to newspaper, but the Committee won’t be commenting on the details reported.”
Kramer was ordered specifically to give up:
Unredacted copies of Six4Three’s opposition to the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) motion, filed in the California courts, relating to the company’s dispute with Facebook, along with any documents or notes relating Six4Three’s opposition to the anti-SLAPP motion.
In a Sunday tweet, Collins wrote to Facebook’s Richard Allan (a company vice president and former MP), that the documents relate to an “ongoing inquiry into disinformation and fake news,” suggesting that he will not be retreating.
But Facebook still doesn’t know what files were given over to Collins and his colleagues.
“We do not know precisely what documents were shared,” Kate McLaughlin, a Facebook spokeswoman emailed Ars on Monday.
Six4Three has been involved in a business dispute that has evolved into a lawsuit against Facebook for years now—the case has bounced between the San Mateo County Superior Court, where it was first filed, and the federal court in San Francisco, where it has been sent back to the county court. A trial in Redwood City, California, has been scheduled for April 2019.
The San Mateo judge had previously ordered that the documents that Six4Three obtained under discovery should remain under seal. But MP Collins noted that the United Kingdom was outside the jurisdiction of the California legal system.
Six4Three alleges that Facebook suddenly changed the terms of how it allowed outside firms to access Facebook’s Graph API generally, and its Friends’ Photos Endpoint, specifically. Six4Three made an app known as “Pikinis” that specifically sought out bikini photos across Facebook users’ friends pages—only 5,000 copies of the app were sold. It was derided in the press as being “creepy.”
In April 2015, Six4Three sued Facebook in San Mateo County, claiming that Facebook’s sudden yanking of access to the Facebook platform resulted in the app—and seemingly by extension, the company itself—being “rendered worthless.”
No attorneys form Six4Three responded to Ars’ request for comment.
Similarly, Facebook did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.
So many questions
On November 20, after being informed by Facebook that Kramer had received the parliamentary order, San Mateo County Judge V. Raymond Swope ordered both sides to submit new briefs to him to answer a number of questions, including:
What authority does DCMS have to overrule the Court’s orders without first seeking relief form the Court?
What is the legal effect, under both United States and United Kingdom law, of the DCMS letter to Mr. Kramer?
Is the DCMS letter different than a summons?
What issues under the United States Constitution are raised by the DCMS letter?
Six4Three’s responses were due 12pm PT on Monday, while Facebook has until November 28 by 12pm PT to submit its reply.