After 18 months of cascading scandals, and under increasing pressure to address the privacy of data after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress for the first time this week. On Tuesday, the CEO of Facebook will appear before a joint hearing of the committees of the Senate and the Judiciary. The next day, he will face the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
In a prepared testimony, Zuckerberg apologizes for not addressing the abuses of the platform, including false news, the 2016 Russian disinformation campaign, hate speech and data leaks. "We did not take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake," he said in his prepared comments. "It was my mistake, and I'm sorry, I started Facebook, I manage it and I'm responsible for what happens here."
Zuckerberg's remarks came after a week-long media tour in which he spoke with Ezra Klein of Vox.com, conducted a question and answer session with journalists and participated in several individual interviews. He also sent his chief of operations, Sheryl Sandberg, to give a series of interviews to apologize for the company's oversights.
In the aftermath of the scandals, Facebook has been hit by prominent critics, including Zuckerberg's comrades. Last week, when Karaphisher of Recode asked him what he would do if it were Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "What would he do? He would not be in this situation."
But even when the company has proposed to contain the damage, new crises have emerged. More recently, the company was forced to explain on Thursday evening why it had secretly erased all of Zuckerberg's Facebook messages without informing the recipients. Facebook said that it would eventually extend that feature to its entire user base, but in the meantime, it was forced to acknowledge that it had built a two-tier privacy system in which the CEO enjoyed privacy features that its user base had. one billion members does not.
Based on comments from lawmakers in the days leading up to the hearing, Zuckerberg can expect a tough series of questions, and may find his company threatened with new regulations. "Facebook now plays a critical role in many social relationships, informing Americans about current events and throwing everything from products to political candidates," Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said in a statement. "Our joint audience will be a public conversation with the CEO of this powerful and influential company on his vision to address issues that have generated great concern about the role of Facebook in our democracy, the bad actors who use the platform and the privacy of the user "
The immediate cause of Tuesday's hearings is an investigation published last month by The New York Times and The Guardian. The journalists discovered an extensive political data mining scheme of the firm Cambridge Analytica, which obtained and used the personal information of up to 87 million people to guide political advertising during the 2016 elections. The data comes from a researcher from the University from Cambridge named Aleksandr Kogan, who in 2015 created a personality test application called "thisisyourdigitallife", which was installed by 270,000 people. The application gave Kogan access to user account information, as well as information about his friends.
While lawmakers' questions are expected to begin with Cambridge Analytica, previous technology executives who appeared before Congress have discovered that lawmakers often seize the opportunity to address a broader range of issues. "What matters most to me is … what has this done, what is it doing to democracy?" Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a member of the House committee representing the United States, told The Washington Post. Silicon Valley
Zuckerberg's testimony could help Facebook address concerns in the capital about the company's data privacy practices, or it could give lawmakers new reasons to regulate the company. An investigation by the Federal Trade Commission is already underway, and multiple investigations are being conducted abroad. After months of negotiations, Facebook said on Friday it would support the Honest Ads Act, which would require disclosures about online political advertising similar to disclosures that are required from the media.
But while US regulators have acted slowly, their European counterparts have already taken action. As of next month, the General Regulation of Data Protection of Europe enters into force. Approved in 2016, the standard requires that any company that collects personal data about a citizen of the European Union obtain the explicit and informed consent of that person. It also requires companies to allow people to revoke their consent and request all information that the company has collected about them.
Zuckerberg has said that it will eventually offer users similar tools around the world, not just in the EU. Meanwhile, it offers a template for US regulators who are beginning to consider new restrictions on how Facebook collects and uses the data about us. When Zuckerberg meets tomorrow with Congress, lawmakers are expected to give us a clearer sense of their thinking about these and other regulations.
Zuckerberg is ready to begin witnessing at 2:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday.