Facebook's Zuckerberg to testify in Congress: What to expect

Here are the questions the Facebook CEO will likely be asked as he makes his first appearance in Congress.

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will appear before two joint US Congress committees on Tuesday and Wednesday, to discuss how the social network is handling user data.

    During the hearings, Zuckerberg is expected to talk about what the company is doing to protect its users' privacy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the private data of more than 87 million people was collected illegally.

    Zuckerberg will also be asked questions about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections and what role the social media platform played.

    In his opening statements to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which were released on Monday, Zuckerberg will apologise for not taking a "broad enough view of our responsibility". 

    "It's clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm, as well," the prepared remarks read. 

    "That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I'm sorry."

    It is not the first time the usually quiet Zuckerberg has apologised for Facebook's role in the Cambridge Analytical incident. 

    His prepared remarks also dig deeper into the actions Facebook has taken so far in an attempt to stop any similar user data leaks happening.

    Despite the apology and plans to combat the same issue from happening, a lot of questions still remain for Facebook users and members of the US legislature.

    Here are some of the questions Zuckerberg will likely be asked as he testifies in front of a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week:

    1. What is Facebook doing to protect user privacy and data? 

    The biggest issue that arose from the Cambridge Analytica scandal was one that has been brought to attention by privacy advocacy groups before.

    It is unclear what data Facebook has exactly about its users.

    Facebook's business model is based on selling advertisements, and serving its ad-buyers as best as possible, through user-data. 

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    However, for users and governments, it is hard to know how much data Facebook actually collects.

    "Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate, using data to connect people from around the world," South Dakota Senator John Thune, who is the Republican chairman of the Commerce Committee, said in a statement

    "With all of the data exchanged over Facebook and other platforms, users deserve to know how their information is shared and secured," he added. 

    "This hearing will explore approaches to privacy that satisfy consumer expectations while encouraging innovation." 

    The hearings will more than likely also touch on what plans Facebook has to improve the amount of information that gets shared with third-party apps.

    The social network has announced some changes already, including how much info third-party apps can get and making it easier for users to disconnect apps they once give access to personal information.

    However, the amount of data Facebook collects is still opaque, and members of the committee will probably ask Zuckerberg about what plans the company has to increase transparency.

    2. What was Facebook's role in the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US elections?

    The controversy regarding Facebook has not only been about the data leak of tens of millions of Facebook users, but also about its alleged involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.

    According to indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller, at least one Russian-based company, the Internet Research Agency, was involved in buying advertisements and running pages that were aimed at influencing American citizens.

    This was done by showing advertisements and spreading misinformation on the social media platform, which was then shared with a large number of Facebook users.

    Although Facebook has since closed several pages linked to the Internet Research Agency, it is still unclear how much Facebook knew and what larger role the social media platform played before and during the US elections.

    Zuckerberg will likely get questions about what Facebook knew, when it knew it and what actions it eventually took. 

    3. Why did Facebook not act sooner in the Cambridge Analytical scandal?

    In his statement released in advance of the hearings, Zuckerberg said the company had made several changes to its policy regarding data collection by third-party applications and how that data could be used.

    In 2015, when The Guardian alerted Facebook to the misuse of private information by Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher who provided user data on tens of millions of Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica, Facebook demanded Kogan and Cambridge Analytica delete all the information they had gathered. 

    It did not, however, follow-up on whether the data collected was deleted. It also did not alert government officials or its users about the breach. 

    One of the questions that the committees will likely ask is why Facebook never alerted its users about the fact their data had been leaked to a company that might use it in nefarious ways.

    4. How many other similar cases have there been?

    Cambridge Analytica and the Russian interference in the US elections are the two most prominent cases in which Facebook's user data were misused, but it is still unclear how many similar cases there might be.

    Facebook has been blamed for creating "chaos" in Myanmar as hate speech circulated on the platform at the beginning of the Rohingya crisis. Cambridge Analytica also claimed it used Facebook user data to influence several other major events including the Brexit referendum, as well as the 2017 presidential elections in Kenya.

    There are many other companies who do work comparable to Cambridge Analytica, and because of Facebook's lack of transparency, it is unclear what data they have and how that data is being used.

    Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his statement this question will be raised during at least one of the committee hearings. 

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    "Our joint hearing will be a public conversation with the CEO of this powerful and influential company about his vision for addressing problems that have generated significant concern about Facebook's role in our democracy, bad actors using the platform, and user privacy," the statement read.

    5. What is Facebook doing to ensure this does not happen again?

    In his prepared remarks, Zuckerberg listed several measures already taken by the company to improve transparency for users.

    The company has also limited the amount of information third-party apps will be able to gather from Facebook profiles, which aims to prevent similar breaches like that in the Cambridge Analytica scandal from happening again.

    With regards to election interfering, the remarks mention the removal of several accounts linked to Russia and Facebook working directly with the German government before the country's 2017 elections.

    However, Zuckerberg said last week "it will take several years" to fix Facebook, which has raised the question about how much the newly announced efforts will improve the current issues. 

    Chris Wylie, Facebook and the dark side of social media

    The Listening Post

    Chris Wylie, Facebook and the dark side of social media

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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