Facebook poses potential threat to democracy, says ex-GCHQ chief

Robert Hannigan said the social network must be ‘controlled and regulated’.

Press Association
Last updated: 7 December 2018 - 10.10am

Facebook could be a threat to democracy unless it is properly regulated, a former head of GCHQ has warned.

Robert Hannigan said Facebook was not a “fluffy charity” providing free services to users, but rather social media firms were trying to “squeeze every drop of profit” out of personal data.

The former intelligence chief was sceptical about whether tech giants could reform themselves and suggested new laws may be required.

Former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan has called for Facebook to be regulated (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan has called for Facebook to be regulated (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Asked if Facebook was a threat to democracy, Mr Hannigan told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Potentially yes, I think it is, if it isn’t controlled and regulated.

“Frankly, some Facebook executives have conceded that it needs regulation.

“But these big companies, particularly where they are monopolies, can’t frankly reform themselves. It will have to come from outside.

“The EU is already talking about doing it and I’m sure others will follow.”

On Wednesday, a House of Commons select committee published more than 200 pages of Facebook internal documents, including emails between key staff members, which had been seized as part of its inquiry into fake news.

The documents had been gathered by software firm Six4Three as part of its legal battle with the platform.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee said the files appear to show Facebook offering special deals to some developers – including Netflix and Airbnb – to gain special access to the data on a user’s friends, even after platform changes introduced in 2015 restricted such practices.

Facebook said the cache of documents published about its business tells “only one side of the story”.

But Mr Hannigan told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “This isn’t a kind of fluffy charity providing free services.

“It is a very hard-headed international business and these big tech companies are essentially the world’s biggest global advertisers, that’s where they make their billions.

“So in return for the service that you find useful they take your data and as these emails show they squeeze every drop of profit out of it.

“And the incentives to make profit out of your data are far greater than the incentives to protect your privacy.”

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