Leaked memo reveals that Facebook has threatened to pull investment projects from Canada and Europe if their data demands are not met

4 min read

Facebook has threatened to pull investment projects from Canada and Europe if the lobbying demands stated by Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook were not met, The Guardian reports.

Facebook was planning to build a data center in Canada to create jobs. The leaked memo, as seen by CW and the Guardian reveals that the deal was to be made only if Christian Paradis, Canada’s then minister of industry, sends a letter of reassurance to Sandberg. According to her, the letter should reassure Facebook that the existence of the data center would not be used by the country to extend its legal jurisdiction over non-Canadian data held by Facebook. Sandberg told the officials from the European Union and Canada that if she did not receive any reassurances, then Facebook will consider other options for investment and growth.

On the same day, Facebook received the letter from Canada guaranteeing the independence of non-Canadian data. The EU is yet to give such an assurance. Because of the company’s relationship with the Irish government, Facebook was hoping to influence the EU as well.

These confidential documents apparently got leaked online. They were filed under seal as part of a lawsuit in California between Facebook and an app developer, Six4Three. These confidential documents show a global lobbying operation by Facebook that targets legislators around the world, including countries like the U.K., United States, Canada, India, and Brazil.

In a statement to Business Insider, Facebook said, “Like the other documents that were cherry-picked and released in violation of a court order last year, these by design tell one side of a story and omit important context. As we’ve said, these selective leaks came from a lawsuit where Six4Three, the creators of an app known as Pikinis, hoped to force Facebook to share information on friends of the app’s users. These documents have been sealed by a Californian court so we’re not able to discuss them in detail.”

According to Computer Weekly, one of the original reporters of the news,  Marne Levine, then Facebook’s vice-president of global public policy, wrote in one memo, “Sheryl took a firm approach and outlined that a decision on the datacentre was imminent. She emphasized that if we could not get comfort from the Canadian government on the jurisdiction issue we had other options.”

Levine also described in the leaked messages as to how the Facebook staff distracted aides to Paradis so that other lobbyists could initiate a discussion with the ministers directly. This made Levine get the mobile numbers of the three government ministers. According to Levine, Sheryl Sandberg got comfortable around former UK chancellor George Osborne. The motive was to make him speak out against EU data laws, according to the leaked internal memo.

This news is a real eye-opener in terms of how Facebook operates, which might also be used as an inspiration by other tech companies in countries where their data demands are not being met. This also seems to be a winning situation for Facebook as it is not only getting its demands fulfilled but also receiving enough support from the government’s end in doing it. “In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said in an interview. Well, it seems Mark Zuckerberg is on his point this time.

The involvement of government is a matter of concern for most of the users. One of the users commented on HackerNews, “Just for a little context, I think it’s worth mentioning that this news comes to light when Canadians are thinking quite a bit about companies lobbying the gov’t, as a bit of a scandal is brewing with the current liberal gov’t[0].”

Another user commented, “The Canadians agreed to not regulate other countries data. This seems pretty reasonable. Why should the Canadian government regulate how an American tech company handles German data? It makes a lot more sense for each country to have jurisdiction over data from (1) its own citizens, (2) residents on its soil or (3) data physically stored on its soil.”

Read Next

Facebook announces ‘Habitat’, a platform for embodied ArtificiaI Intelligence research

Facebook open sources Magma, a software platform for deploying mobile networks

The Verge spotlights the hidden cost of being a Facebook content moderator, a role Facebook outsources to 3rd parties to make the platform safe for users