Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before Congress regarding the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal on Tuesday.
It appears as though the social network’s founder is feeling the pressure from the public and lawmakers because last month, Zuckerberg suggested that Facebook’s leading engineers and lawyers would be more appropriate to answer Congress’s questions.
“If it is ever the case that I am the most informed person at Facebook in the best position to testify, I will happily do that,” said Zuckerberg last month to WIRED.
The social network is still dealing with the backlash from the Cambridge Analytica scandal that hit in mid-March. Hashtags like #DeleteFacebook are still trending on Twitter.
“Facebook was criticized last week for having its platform exploited by Cambridge Analytica, a digital analytics firm hired by the Trump presidential campaign. According to Facebook, data from about 300,000 users was originally collected by a Cambridge lecturer named Aleksandr Kogan in 2013 for a personality quiz app. But given the way Facebook worked at the time, Kogan was able to access data from “tens of millions” of friends of those users, Zuckerberg said. While Kogan collected the data legitimately, he then violated Facebook’s terms by passing the information to Cambridge Analytica,” wrote CNET back in March after the scandal hit the media.
Then last week, Facebook announced that the new stricter privacy regulations being put in place in Europe will also be rolled out globally. The new EU law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation is being implemented on May 25 to better protect user data. Users will know what data is being stored on them and then will be able to delete it.
On Tuesday, Zuckerberg will be questioned for the first time at the Capitol during a joint hearing where the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal evidently won’t be the only topic.
“It’s true that when Zuckerberg assumes the hot seat—at a joint hearing of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Tuesday, followed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday—lawmakers will undoubtedly grill the embattled tech founder on the specifics of how the private data of some 87 million Facebook users ended up in the hands of the shadowy British data firm SCL and its American offshoot, Cambridge Analytica, “ writes WIRED. “They will almost certainly interrogate him over how a Russian propaganda group managed to conduct a paid political influence campaign during the 2016 US election, and question him about why Facebook didn’t find and shut down another roughly 300 of these propaganda spewing accounts and pages until just this week. They may try to pin him down on what sort of regulation he supports or ask for his predictions about the next big threat in election meddling.”
Democrats, in particular, want answers regarding the Russian ads purchased during the last presidential election.
“Russian meddling is a real issue, but all evidence suggests it aimed far more at deepening America’s divisions than at helping any candidate. The ads and posts weren’t even targeted at swing-state voters,” writes the New York Post. “As for the data on millions of people that wound up in the hands of Trump-allied Cambridge Analytica: The company says it deleted it years ago when asked to, and has volunteered to undergo a forensic sweep of its computers. Anyway, Cambridge had nothing magical: The firm worked against Trump for Ted Cruz in the primaries, with no success.”
Every statement that Zuckerberg makes will have an impact on the future of the social network and even on the whole of the tech industry. Facebook’s recent disasters are inspiring lawmakers to look into introducing new regulations for the industry.
Zuckerberg’s recent statements pledging that Facebook will better protect its community’s privacy moving forward hasn’t been enough for lawmakers.
“More than any one issue, I’m interested in Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the responsibility Facebook plans to take for what happens on its platform, how it will protect users’ data, and how it intends to proactively stop harmful conduct instead of being forced to respond to it months or years later,” said John Thune, a Republican Senator in South Dakota and the leader of the Senate Commerce Committee in a statement.
Several lawmakers aren’t convinced that tech giants are policing themselves like they should be.
“What I see are incredibly innovative and powerful companies that dominate on their platforms, whether that’s Facebook, whether that’s Google, whether that’s Amazon,” said Greg Walden, a Republican Representative in Oregon, who leads up the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “But like all good things, if you get too big too quickly you may not have the self-regulation in place that ultimately consumers demand.”
Author’s note: We don’t know exactly what will happen after this, but Congress will likely pass something meaningless and Facebook will continue to violate privacy. Zuckerberg may be arrogant but he is also smart. Can he trick both the public and a pissed off Congress?