Lawmakers plan to take up Mark Zuckerberg on his offer to testify about Facebook's most recent privacy fiasco.
"The latest revelations regarding Facebook’s use and security of user data raises many serious consumer protection concerns," Reps. Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey), chairman and ranking member of the House Commerce Committee, stated Thursday. "Mr. Zuckerberg has stated that he would be willing to testify if he is the right person. We believe, as CEO of Facebook, he is the right witness to provide answers to the American people."
Walden and Pallone added that many questions "were left unanswered" after a briefing on Wednesday with Facebook officials.
The move comes in response to reports in The New York Times and The Observer of London that President Trump's consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, harvested personal data of 50 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica reportedly obtained the data from Global Science Research's Alexsandr Kogan, who collected the information in 2014 via his personality-quiz app "thisisyourdigitallife." That app was downloaded by 270,000 Facebook users, but Kogan was able to gather information about millions of those users' friends.
In April of 2015, Facebook stopped allowing developers to access data about users' friends. But in 2014, when Kogan's app began gathering data, Facebook allowed developers to glean information about users' friends, subject to their privacy settings. Facebook's terms of service prohibited developers from sharing that information, but that restriction didn't mean much to Kogan or Cambridge Analytica, assuming that the reports in the Times and Observer are true.
Facebook learned in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had obtained the data, and asked the consultancy to destroy it. The social networking service says it believed at the time that Cambridge Analytica did so.
Other facts are still emerging, and many questions remain. One of the most pressing unanswered questions is how Cambridge Analytica used the data. CEO Alexander Nix, suspended from the company this week, boasted to an undercover reporter that Cambridge Analytica's extensive ad targeting helped Trump win the presidency. For its part, the company denies using Facebook data on Trump's behalf.
Ultimately, Cambridge Analytica is probably best positioned to answer how it used the information. But there are other questions that only Facebook can answer, including why it allowed Cambridge Analytica to advertise on the platform after the consultancy allegedly obtained information it wasn't supposed to have.
The incident also raises questions about how Facebook policed developers. These questions aren't new: As far back in 2010, it came to light that app developers were obtaining Facebook users' names and sending them to ad networks and data brokers -- in violation of the social networking service's rules.
It's worth noting that Facebook has a long history of playing fast and loose with users' data. In 2007, the company launched the disastrous Beacon ad program, which shared information about Facebook users' ecommerce activity at outside sites, like Zappos and Overstock, with their friends. In 2009, Facebook reclassified a host of data about users as "public" -- including their names, photos and friend lists. The following year, the company launched instant personalization -- a "feature" that automatically shared logged-in Facebook users' names and photos with outside partners like Yelp, Pandora and Scribd. More recently, Facebook stirred controversy by combining data about its users who also use messaging service WhatsApp, which it acquired in 2014.
For now, lawmakers on the House Commerce Committee aren't the only ones demanding answers from the company. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) also is asking Zuckerberg whether the company attempted to notify the 50 million users who were impacted by the data harvesting, and whether Cambridge Analytica or its clients used data gleaned from Hogan's app for targeted advertising.
On Thursday, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) sent a separate letter to Zuckerberg, asking him for detailed information about the company's policies regarding data collection by developers. Among other questions, they want to know how Facebook verified that developers don't share or sell data, and whether Facebook has previously told developers to destroy information collected through the platform.