MK, Facebook clash at Knesset hearing over privacy regulations

Swid appeared to call Facebook’s head of Israel policy Jordana Cutler a liar, before reframing her point to say Facebook the organization is lying.

May 22, 2018 23:52
3 minute read.
MK, Facebook clash at Knesset hearing over privacy regulations

The Facebook application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. . (photo credit: THOMAS WHITE / REUTERS)


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There were fireworks between Zionist Union MK Revital Swid and Facebook’s Israel chief on Tuesday, at a Knesset hearing that was supposed to focus on legal nuances of a bill empowering courts to remove social media posts, but instead detoured into a battle about truth and privacy issues.

Swid appeared to call Facebook’s head of Israel policy Jordana Cutler a liar, before reframing her point to say Facebook the organization is lying.

The exchange related to a debate the two women were having at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee about why Facebook is not copying the new EU privacy regulations model in its treatment of Israelis.

According to Swid, Facebook is making quiet moves behind the scenes, including changing who manages Israelis’ information, to avoid the EU’s new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) being applied to how it handles that information.

The GDPR is geared toward pushing back on Internet and social media companies’ unregulated data-collection practices, by threatening heavy fines, to avoid a repeat of scandals in which users’ data have been misused.

Swid said that Facebook is trying to cover this up and is being dishonest when it tries to explain away certain changes it is making as being unimportant technical ones.

Instead, she said Facebook is trying to avoid the GDPR’s cumbersome protections of users’ data, and possible legal liability, when it comes to Israelis.

Cutler is a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer who has won over Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and much of the government establishment to viewing Facebook as cooperative.

Calmly, but firmly, she swung back at Swid saying, “I am not lying... and I think what is best for Israel is to do what we are doing with all of the other countries in the world – to sit and dialogue in order to understand their concerns and so that we can improve ourselves.”

In contrast to Swid, she focused on the point that Israelis would still benefit from nearly all of the same protections as Europeans.

Cutler said that the changes Facebook was making for Israelis were changes it was making with other countries outside of the European context, based on the idea that one size does not fit all.

Further, she said that applying certain of the EU’s new rules universally would hamper benefits for users in other countries.

An interesting aspect of most of the remainder of the hearing was that Facebook is not fighting the legislation, citing statements by Israeli government officials that it is already self-removing a voluminous number of problematic posts when notified by Israeli authorities.

Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan started formulating the bill in June 2016, as a way to spur greater and faster cooperation from Facebook in removing posts related to terrorism.

However, once Cutler came on board and Facebook globally started shifting resources and its culture toward comprehensively combating terrorist and other problematic posts, Shaked and others have numerous times praised the US firm’s more recent cooperation.

In April, Facebook’s global counterterrorism chief Erin Saltman gave The Jerusalem Post an unusual in-depth discussion of work by her team of 180 experts and her then-7,500 person team (which has since grown) to review questionable Facebook pages and posts.

The bill to empower courts to remove problematic posts is expected to pass, though there may still be adjustments to the wording, with the debate being between making it easier to remove posts to better protect potential victims of the posts versus making it harder to remove posts to protect free speech.

However, even if Swid’s criticism of some of Facebook’s moves leading up to the GDPR was not a hot issue for others on the Knesset committee, she was mostly echoing criticism of Facebook by others in Europe, and it is unclear exactly how the post-GDPR world will play out for Israelis.

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