Facebook has targeted politicians around the world – including the former chancellor, George Osborne – promising investments and incentives while seeking to pressure them into lobbying on Facebook’s behalf against data privacy legislation, an explosive new leak of internal Facebook documents has revealed.
The documents, which have been seen by the Observer and Computer Weekly, reveal a secretive global lobbying operation that has targeted hundreds of legislators and regulators in an attempt to procure influence across the world, including in the UK, US, Canada, India, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and all 28 states of the EU. The documents include details of how Facebook:
• Used chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s feminist memoir Lean In to “bond” with female European commissioners it viewed as hostile.
• Threatened to withhold investment from countries unless they supported or passed Facebook-friendly laws.
The documents appear to emanate from a court case against Facebook by the app developer Six4Three in California, and reveal that Sandberg considered European data protection legislation a “critical” threat to the company. A memo written after the Davos economic summit in 2013 quotes Sandberg describing the “uphill battle” the company faced in Europe on the “data and privacy front” and its “critical” efforts to head off “overly prescriptive new laws”.
Most revealingly, it includes details of its “great relationship” with Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, one of a number of people it describes as “friends of Facebook”. Ireland plays a key role in regulating technology companies in Europe because its data protection commissioner acts on behalf of all 28 member states. The memo has inflamed data protection advocates, who have long complained about the company’s “cosy” relationship with the Irish government.