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Facebook, Privacy, and Chances for Legislation

04.17.2018

On April 10th and 11th, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about Facebook’s use of data and the implications on their user’s privacy. Zuckerberg was the lone panelist at both hearings held in the wake of troubling revelations stemming from Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data and concerns about Facebook’s influence on elections.
 
Monetizing User Data
Facebook's Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said the company believes data from up to 87 million people was "improperly shared" with Cambridge Analytica. In testimony, Zuckerberg asserted that Facebook does not “sell” user data, but it became clear the company is compensated for allowing advertisers to use/lease user data to better target for commercial and political gain.
 
Scope of Questioning
Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune’s opening statement set the tone for the two days and 10 hours of testimony. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) was clear about his intentions for calling Zuckerberg to testify, pointing to the alarming breaches of trust between Facebook and its users, and the need to assess the fundamental relationship between tech companies and their users.
 
Throughout both hearings, questions ranged from data security, privacy and data-sharing, to addressing diversity at Facebook headquarters and whether the company is influencing elections domestically and abroad by “sharing” user data.
 
What's Next
In the wake of the two hearings, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Kennedy (R-LA) announced plans to introduce legislation that would provide users recourse options if their data is breached, and the right to opt out of data tracking and collection. The bill is expected to include a 72-hour data breach notification standard, which might draw significant criticism.
 
After the House hearing, Chairman Walden (R-OR) was asked about the committee’s appetite for privacy legislation. He responded that there might be “a deal to be had on net neutrality and privacy--giving the Democrats what they want on net neutrality and Republicans what they want on privacy.” Opinion leaders say one potential outcome is some codification of net neutrality principles for ISPs, and privacy legislation that applies to all collectors of information on the internet.