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.
Here's why his testimony is a lie (from the WSJ):
A small group of Facebook Inc. FB 1.49% 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.The dual standard for employees versus regular users is a window on Facebook’s struggle over how much to disclose to users about how their data is handled—an issue Facebook has recently tried to address with a raft of changes to the platform.
Kennedy specifically asked about the ablity to access user data, not the rules governing it.