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The Fake News Inquiry Chair Says He's Seen Evidence A Facebook Engineer Flagged Russian "Entities" Pulling Data In 2014

Facebook claimed engineers later "found no evidence of specific Russian activity".

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Gabriel Sainhas/House of Commons

A UK Commons committee chair claims a seized trove of Facebook documents reveals that a company engineer flagged Russian "entities" were using a Pinterest API to pull billions of points of Facebook data every day in 2014.

Damian Collins appeared to use parliamentary privilege to outline the detail from the sealed documents, during a fiery session of questioning of Facebook executive Richard Allan before the first sitting of the "international grand committee on disinformation and fake news" in London on Tuesday.

The House of Commons digital, culture, media, and sport committee had gathered members from nine different national parliaments in an effort to get Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to face questions around data use and elections.

The most contentious moment came during an exchange between Allan and the chair of the committee over what's alleged to be in a set of documents that are subject to the protective order of a California court.

The documents had been obtained during discovery by the legal team of Ted Kramer, the managing director of app developer Six4Three, who is suing the social network.

Last week, Collins received the trove from Kramer, who claims he was in London visiting on a business trip. The committee chair used a parliamentary mechanism to seize the sealed documents, which apparently include email correspondence between Facebook executives discussing the company's relationships to developers and data.

During the questioning of Allan on Tuesday, Collins said the emails would not be released. But he did outline details from an alleged incident which, if true, would raise further questions about how Facebook responded to learning about data being taken from the platform.

"An engineer at Facebook notified the company in October 2014 that entities with Russian IP addresses have been using a Pinterest API key to pull over 3 billion data points a day," Collins said.

"Now was that reported to any external body at the time?"

Allan dismissed the claim by focusing on the source of the information, Six4Three, labelling it a "hostile litigant".

"There is, as I understand it, a partial set of information that was obtained by a hostile litigant who is repeatedly seeking to overturn actually the very changes to restrict access to data that you as a committee and others would want us to see happen," he said.

The Facebook executive added: "Any information that you have seen in that cache of emails is at best partial, and at worst potentially misleading."

After the incident was aired in the committee, a Facebook spokesperson sent a statement to BuzzFeed News: "The engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity."

The two-and-a-half-hour questioning session began with Collins referring to an empty chair and a "Mark Zuckerberg" nameplate, which had been left out for the Facebook founder.

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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