Facebook chief to face US lawmakers

Mark Zuckerberg will appear before US lawmakers as a firestorm rocks Facebook over its data privacy scandal.
Mark Zuckerberg will appear before US lawmakers as a firestorm rocks Facebook over its data privacy scandal.
Image: www.pexels.com

Mark Zuckerberg will appear before US lawmakers this week as a firestorm rocks Facebook over its data privacy scandal, with pressure mounting for new regulations on social media platforms.

The 33-year-old chief executive is expected to face a grilling before a Senate panel today, and follow up with an appearance in the House of Representatives tomorrow.

It comes amid a raft of inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic following disclosures that data on 87 million users was hijacked and improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy working for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

On Sunday, Facebook said it had suspended another data analysis firm, US-based CubeYou, after CNBC reported it used Facebook user information – harvested from psychological testing apps, as in the case of Cambridge Analytica – for commercial purposes.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have signalled they intend to get tough on Facebook and other online services over privacy.

“A day of reckoning is coming for websites like @facebook,” Democratic Senator Ed Markey wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“We need a privacy bill of rights that all Americans can rely upon.”

Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, agreed that legislation was needed “to protect Americans’ dignity and privacy from bad-faith actors like Cambridge Analytica, who use social media data to manipulate people”.

Several lawmakers and activists believe the United States should follow the lead of Europe’s data protection law set to be implemented next month which has strict terms for notification and sharing of personal data online.

Zuckerberg told reporters Facebook would follow the European rules worldwide, although cautioned that implementation may not be exactly the same format for various countries and regions.

Facebook, meanwhile, announced on Friday that it will require political ads on its platform to state who is paying for the message and would verify the identity of the payer, in a bid to curb outside election interference.

The change is meant to avoid a repeat of the manipulation efforts by Russian-sponsored entities which sought to foment discord in 2016, and also responds to criticism about anonymous messages based on Facebook profile data.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook was now endorsing the “Honest Ads Act,” a bill that would require disclosure of the sources of online political ads.

But some analysts fear his appearance on Capitol Hill will be little more than a public relations exercise.