Former GCHQ chief says Facebook could be a threat to democracy


Facebook should be ‘controlled and regulated’ or it could become a threat to democracy, a former senior intelligence boss has said.

Robert Hannigan, who was head of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, said the social media giant was incapable of reforming itself.

The company wanted to ‘squeeze every drop of profit’ out of users’ data and prioritised that over protecting their privacy, he added.

Mr Hannigan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This isn’t a kind of fluffy charity providing free services. It is a very hard-headed international business.

“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 squeeze every drop of profit out of it.”

He said Facebook was a ‘potential’ threat to democracy across the world ‘if it isn’t controlled and regulated.’

“These big companies, particularly where there are monopolies, can’t frankly reform themselves. It will have to come from outside,” he added.

His intervention came after MPs accused Facebook of agreeing secret deals that gave some developers special access to its data but refused others.

Details were revealed in emails from Facebook bosses that were published online by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

Facebook was also accused by the committee of deliberately making it difficult for users to be aware of privacy changes made to its Android app.

In response, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a message on his Facebook page in which he said the documents had been published in a ‘a very misleading manner.’

The firm had previously come under fire for the way it handled fake news, particularly in connection with the Brexit vote and the US Presidential elections.

Mr Hannigan also said that fears about Chinese technology giant Huawei could be a front for espionage were fuelled by ‘a sort of hysteria.’

The head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6 Alex Younger this month questioned why Chinese companies were involved with the UK’s 5G mobile network.

He told an audience that Australia and New Zealand had banned Huawei from supplying equipment for their networks and the UK had ‘some decisions to make.’

But Mr Hannigan said: “My worry is there is a sort of hysteria growing at the moment about Chinese technology in general, and Huawei in particular.”

He claimed that this showed a lack of understanding about the technology and any possible threat and that a ‘calmer and more dispassionate approach’ was needed.

No malicious technology had been found in Huawei systems and concerns about the firm’s cyber security and engineering were about ‘incompetence not malice,’ he said.

Mr Hannigan added that Chinese technology was likely to be the best and the cheapest in future and any suggestion that we should boycott it was ‘frankly crazy.’

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