Tuesday 18 December 2018

Zuckerberg to give evidence to US committee over Facebook use of data

The tech giant is facing scrutiny over claims that Cambridge Analytica obtained data on tens of millions of people.

Mark Zuckerberg (Chris Ratcliffe/PA)
Mark Zuckerberg (Chris Ratcliffe/PA)

By Associated Press Reporters

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg is to give evidence to a US committee on April 11, according to officials.

Representatives Greg Walden and Frank Pallone said the hearing of the oversight committee will focus on Facebook’s “use and protection of user data”.

Facebook is facing scrutiny over its data collection following allegations that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users to try to influence elections.

Mr Walden is the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, and Mr Pallone is the panel’s top ranking Democrat.

They say the hearing will be “an important opportunity to shed light on critical consumer data privacy issues and help all Americans better understand what happens to their personal information online”.

The committee is the first of three congressional panels that requested Mr Zuckerberg’s evidence to announce a hearing date. The Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees also have called for him to appear.

Mr Walden and Mr Pallone said last month that they wanted to hear directly from Mr Zuckerberg after senior Facebook executives failed to answers questions during a closed-door briefing with congressional staff about how Facebook and third-party developers use and protect consumer data.

Mr Zuckerberg said during a March 21 interview on CNN that he would be “happy” to give evidence before Congress, but only if he was the right person to do that.

He said there might be other Facebook officials better positioned to appear, depending on what Congress wanted to know.

Mr Walden and Mr Pallone said a day later that as Facebook’s top executive, Mr Zuckerberg was the “right witness to provide answers to the American people”.

Their call represented the first official request from a congressional oversight committee for Mr Zuckerberg’s appearance as legislators demanded that Facebook explain reports that Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 50 million Facebook users.

The company, funded in part by Trump supporter and billionaire financier Robert Mercer, paired its vault of consumer data with voter information.

The Trump campaign paid the firm nearly 6 million dollars during the 2016 election, although it has since distanced itself.

Other Republican clients of Cambridge Analytica included senator Ted Cruz’s failed presidential campaign and Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who also ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016.

The data was gathered through a personality test app called “This Is Your Digital Life” that was downloaded by fewer than 200,000 people, but participants unknowingly gave researchers access to the profiles of their Facebook friends, allowing them to collect data from millions more users.

It is far from certain what action, if any, the Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration might take against Facebook, but the company will almost certainly oppose any efforts to regulate it or the technology business sector more broadly.

As with most large corporations, Facebook has assembled a potent lobbying operation to advance its interests in Washington.

The company spent just over 13 million dollars on lobbying in 2017, with the bulk of the money spent on an in-house lobbying team stocked with former Republican and Democratic political aides, according to disclosure records filed with the House and Senate.

The company sought to influence an array of matters that ranged from potential changes to government surveillance programmes to corporate tax issues.

Press Association

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