Mark Zuckerberg ‘threatened to pull’ UK investment in secret meeting

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives for testimony before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Win McNamee | Getty Images

LONDON— Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg threatened to pull investment in the U.K. in a private meeting two years ago with Matt Hancock, who was then the U.K. government’s secretary for digital, culture, media and sport.

Minutes from the meeting obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and described online on Tuesday provide a summary of the encounter, which occurred at the VivaTech technology conference in Paris in May 2018.

The minutes — published after a two-year freedom of information (FOI) battle — record Zuckerberg speaking “of an anti-tech U.K. government and said he jokes about adding the U.K. as the only country in the world he will not visit.”

A second country was redacted from the minutes.

In response, a spokesman for the social media giant told CNBC: “The U.K. is our largest engineering hub outside of the U.S. and just this year we created 1,000 new roles in the country.”

The minutes describe how Zuckerberg said the U.K. is the “obvious territory” for Facebook to invest in Europe, but he claimed the company was looking elsewhere due to the criticism the company had been receiving in Britain.

According to the minutes, Zuckerberg said he supported the U.K.’s decision to regulate the internet but he was “worried about the tone.”

Hancock reportedly explained to Zuckerberg that he wanted to “use the decision to legislate as a new beginning for U.K. government relationships with the platform” adding that the “tone can shift from threatening regulation to ensure legislation is proportionate and innovation friendly.”

The meeting between the world’s fifth-richest person and Hancock took place as Facebook was in the spotlight over the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw data of millions of Facebook users harvested for political campaigns.

In March 2018, Hancock vowed to end the “Wild West” for tech companies and introduce new regulation to keep them in line.

Hancock told Zuckerberg at the meeting that he wanted to work with Facebook to implement an “innovation friendly” law.

The meeting with Zuckerberg reportedly came about after several days of “wrangling” by the U.K.’s culture department and on the premise that it would be a “positive meeting.”

The spokesperson for Facebook also added: “Facebook has long said we need new regulations to set high standards across the internet.”

“In fact, last year Mark Zuckerberg called on governments to establish new rules around harmful content, privacy, data portability, and election integrity.”

 



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