Congress Gets a Privacy Date with Facebook’s Zuck

Congress Gets a Privacy Date with Facebook’s Zuck

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will face the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week to answer questions about the platform’s practices with users’ data. Apparently, he’s concluded that testifying to Congress is the right thing to do when your company is under sustained fire over its customer data practices and how it chooses what users see on its platform.

“The hearing — set before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the morning of April 11 — could result in an uncomfortable grilling from Democrats and Republicans who feel the social giant is responsible for everything from fake news to online extremism,” according to the WashingtonPost.com.

The news comes as Facebook announced that data on up to 87 million of its users had been shared “improperly” with Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that President Trump’s campaign once worked with, up from the 50 million figure it previously cited.

Other requests are still pending, such as the Senate Judiciary Committee invite and the Senate Commerce committee. Reuters has reported, citing anonymous sourcing, that Zuckerberg is expected to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

No word yet on whether the House panel plans to live-stream the hearing on Facebook.

Via Reuters: “This 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 panel’s Republican chairman Greg Walden and top Democrat Frank Pallone said in a statement.

The hearing date should also be an opportunity to elevate the growing concern in tech and media circles about the power and behavior of Facebook to influence how its users consume information on the platform, which counts 2.2 billion users worldwide.

It thinks of itself as a platform provider for connecting people rather than a news and information publisher, despite research that shows millions of Americans get a portion of their daily news on the platform.

And that may help it remain shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. A key provision of “Section 230” says:

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

That is the shield that critics say allows Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and many other content platforms to act every bit as publishers, but not have to answer questions about their practices with user’s content or how they treat content from outlets such as Breitbart, which has been critical of Facebook’s practices and has questioned its treatment of conservative-leaning publications.

Next week’s hearing (and perhaps hearings) will likely delve into what users “opt-in” for when they sign up for Facebook’s connection service. They will likely grill Zuckerberg (and anyone he may bring with him from legal) Facebook’s policies with that data, what users can “opt out” of and how it shares our info with third-party vendors and advertisers.

For now at least, one House panel has scheduled Zuckerberg to testify about its data and privacy policies. A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters they are working on the other scheduling invites.

Clearly, Zuckerberg has concluded that showing up when Congress invites you to testify makes sense, even though he turned down British lawmakers’ similar requests.

Who’s betting he may forego the usual t-shirt for a tie and jacket? It might help him look a little more grown-up as the leader of a company whose practices with users’ data, algorithms and lax policies to police its platform until recently have placed it under fire among lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, investors, consumer watchdogs and its own user base.

(Updates prior version to include Facebook’s update of how many users’s data it estimates were shared with third parties.)

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