But the hearings will expand far beyond the Cambridge matter. Senate and House lawmakers will take the opportunity to grill Mr. Zuckerberg, the 33-year-old iconic Silicon Valley entrepreneur, on the proliferation of so-called fake news on Facebook and on Russian interference on the platform during the 2016 presidential election.
The joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees is holding its hearing first and Mr. Zuckerberg will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Cambridge in the Crosshairs
Much of the hearing so far has centered on Cambridge Analytica. The hearing was called as the result of reporting by The New York Times on the company’s data harvesting. Lawmakers asked Mr. Zuckerberg what, if anything, he knew about Cambridge’s harvesting, what he was doing to ensure it would not happen again and whether he knew of other operations that engaged in similar data collection on the platform.
Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook would be “investigating many apps, tens of thousands of apps, and if we find any suspicious activity, we’re going to conduct a full audit of those apps to understand how they’re using their data and if they’re doing anything improper. If we find that they’re doing anything improper, we’ll ban them from Facebook and we will tell everyone affected.”
— Matthew Rosenberg
Democrats Press on Russian Meddling
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, pressed Mr. Zuckerberg on Russia’s exploitation of the platform during the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Zuckerberg admitted that the company’s effort to find and stop the Russian meddling was “slow,” and called that failure “one of my greatest regrets.” He said Facebook was tracking known Russian hacking groups in real time but took much longer to recognize the inflammatory posts of the Internet Research Agency, a private company with Kremlin ties.
“There are people in Russia whose job is to exploit our systems,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “This is an arms race.”
But the Facebook founder said the company deployed new artificial intelligence tools to detect malicious activity in elections in France, Italy and a special Senate race in Alabama. He said he believed the new technology would help protect the integrity of elections around the world from manipulation via Facebook.
— Scott Shane
Zuckerberg’s Long Apology Tour
Mr. Zuckerberg has a history of apologizing for the company’s mistakes and promising to do better. Wired Magazine recently noted that Mr. Zuckerberg has a 14-year history of apologizing. That seems to have caused some consternation on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers prodded Mr. Zuckerberg about why, exactly, they should believe his promises now.
“After more than a decade of promises to do better, how is today’s apology different and why should we trust Facebook to make the necessary changes to ensure user privacy and give people a clearer picture of your privacy policies?” Mr. Thune asked.
Mr. Zuckerberg referred again to his company’s humble beginnings in his dorm room at Harvard.
“So we have made a lot of mistakes in running the company. I think it’s pretty much impossible, I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we’re at now without making some mistakes.”
Mr. Thune, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, called Facebook and its role in society “extraordinary” and began the hearing by explaining why Facebook is being singled out and why Mr. Zuckerberg was asked to appear alone.
He said the Cambridge Analytica situation underscored how Facebook can be used for nefarious reasons, saying it appeared “to be the result of people exploiting the tools you created to manipulate users’ information.”
In an indication that he may support legislation for internet companies, Mr. Thune said, “In the past, many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been willing to defer to tech companies’ efforts to regulate themselves. But this may be changing.”
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the tech industry “has a responsibility” to protect its users and said “the status quo no longer works.”
— Cecilia Kang
Facebook As a Proxy For Silicon Valley
Mr. Zuckerberg is the only technology chief in the room, but it is clear that members of Congress are treating him as a stand-in for the entirety of Silicon Valley.
Mr. Grassley called the entire tech industry to account, saying “the tech industry has an obligation to…restore the public’s trust.” Mr. Nelson put it even more bluntly: “If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy.”
In his opening statement, Mr. Zuckerberg, who is 33, made a point to remind Congress that he was young when this all began.
“I started Facebook when I was in college,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. This is a recurring theme for Mr. Zuckerberg — in many recent interviews, he has referred to starting Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. And perhaps it is wise to keep bringing up the fact that Mr. Zuckerberg is much younger than most of the business executives who come before Congress.
But the strategy could also backfire. After all, Mr. Zuckerberg is a long way from his dorm room — he is a veteran executive and a billionaire who has been running a major American corporation for more than a decade. Reminding lawmakers of his youth could lead them to question whether Mr. Zuckerberg is mature enough to handle such enormous responsibilities and whether Silicon Valley needs more adult supervision in the way of additional federal regulation.
— Kevin Roose
The gap in knowledge about how Facebook’s business works was on display at times during Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony.
The company has faced questions about the possibility of creating a paid service that would allow users to opt-out of sharing their data or seeing advertisements.
Mr. Zuckerberg insisted on Tuesday that there would always be a free version of Facebook, so that anyone in the world can afford to be part of its online community.
At that point, Sentor Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican, asked Mr. Zuckerberg how he could sustain a business without charging anything for it.
“Sir, we run ads,” Mr. Zuckerberg explained.
Mr. Hatch replied: “I see.”
— Alan Rappeport
By the Numbers
There are a lot of numbers flying around in the hearing. So, to be clear: The figure of 87 million affected Facebook users comes from Facebook itself, and refers to the number of people the company calculated could have been affected, not the number who were.
Alexandr Kogan, the academic who Cambridge Analytica hired to harvest the Facebook data, has said that he collected information from the profiles of more than 50 million people. That figure is backed up by documents that have been reviewed by The New York Times, and other former employees of Cambridge Analytica.
— Matthew Rosenberg
Zuckerberg’s Facebook Damage-Control Crew
Mr. Zuckerberg was accompanied by the senior staff members that have been charged with addressing the company’s months of privacy and election interference debacles. He entered the room with Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy, a Republican who worked in the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Kaplan sat behind Mr. Zuckerberg along with Colin B. Stretch, the company’s general counsel, and Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer. The executives have been scrambling for about one year with one crisis after another that brought Mr. Stretch to testify last November in Russia’s interference in the elections.
— Cecilia Kang
Zuckerberg Welcomed by Dozens of Zuckerbergs on the Hill
Facebook Warns Private Messages Might Have Been Harvested
This morning, many people woke up to a Facebook notification that their personal information had been collected by “This Is Your Digital Life,” a quiz app developed by a University of Cambridge researcher, which harvested the data that was ultimately passed to Cambridge Analytica. According to the notification, the app collected data including users’ public profile information, page likes, birthdays, and current cities.
But Facebook’s notifications also alerted people that their messages were possibly accessed during the breach. Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic who contracted with Cambridge Analytica’s British affiliate to harvest and provide private Facebook data, told The New York Times that the app harvested messages from the people who took part in the quiz directly, but not their extended friend network. Mr. Kogan added that the messages were not transferred to Cambridge Analytica.
You can read more about the situation in this New York Times article.
— Kevin Roose, Matthew Rosenberg and Sheera Frenkel
A Hot-Ticket Hearing
Several hours before Mr. Zuckerberg is scheduled to begin testifying, the line of people trying to get into the hearing room already stretched far down the hallway.
Annamarie Rienzi, a student at American University, was one of the first people in line. Wearing a T-shirt that read “#deletefacebook,” Ms. Rienzi said that she had come to the hearing to express her displeasure with the social network. She hadn’t actually deleted her Facebook account yet, she said, but was waiting to see how Mr. Zuckerberg performed before deciding whether or not to continue using the service.
“It’s really going to rest on this hearing,” she said. “It’s going to come down to if he’s honest, and if he learned from hiding so much information in the past.”
A Boost for Zuckerberg?
Mr. Zuckerberg will be clad in a suit and tie at his hearing. He will also have a booster seat to help give his testimony a lift.
Zuckerberg Posts to Facebook Before Talking Facebook
Mr. Zuckerberg took to his social platform ahead of his Senate appearance, posting a photo of the Capitol building surrounded by cherry blossoms and a message about what he planned to tell lawmakers.
“In an hour I’m going to testify in front of the Senate about how Facebook needs to take a broader view of our responsibility — not just to build tools, but to make sure those tools are used for good. I will do everything I can to make Facebook a place where everyone can stay closer with the people they care about, and to make sure it’s a positive force in the world.”
In Zuckerberg We Trust?
Facebook’s repeated privacy mishaps — and subsequent apologies — will be a recurring theme during the hearings.
Mr. Zuckerberg will start out with another mea culpa and plans to tell lawmakers that the company made a “big mistake” in underestimating its responsibility, according to prepared testimony released by the Energy and Commerce Committee. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Mr. Zuckerberg is also expected to say the company is hiring thousands of people to make the site more secure and to correct mishaps over privacy and fake news. But the question of trust is at the center of the company’s ability to thrive going forward. Some lawmakers will insist that the company’s business model of collecting data to target ads is fundamentally at odds with the protection of its users’ privacy.
— Cecilia Kang
Facebook to Offer Data Abuse Bounty Program
Just hours before Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony is set to begin, Facebook announced a “data abuse bounty” program, to reward people who report incidents of data abuse on the platform.
According to the announcement, the company will financially reward “people with firsthand knowledge and proof of cases where a Facebook platform app collects and transfers people’s data to another party to be sold, stolen or used for scams or political influence.”
Facebook says that the amount of the bounties will vary based on the impact of each data misuse incident, but that technical glitches that have been reported to the company in the past have fetched rewards of as much as $40,000.
Silicon Valley tech companies, including Facebook, have long had “bug bounty” programs to encourage hackers to find flaws in their software, so that they can be safely patched. Now, in an attempt to avoid future data leak scandals, Facebook is trying to harness the power of the crowd to find other Cambridge Analyticas who are misusing user data. (Presumably, Christopher Wylie, the original Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower, will not be eligible for back pay.)
— Kevin Roose
Bad Timing: Senator Coons Finds Fake Facebook Accounts
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a moderate Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, did not need to look far Tuesday morning for evidence of what ails Facebook after finding two fake accounts:
Facebook took quick action, taking down the two fake accounts, according to an aide to the senator. But Mr. Coons was hardly placated.
“They’ve already fixed it,” said the aide, Sean Coit. “But how do they respond to an average person in Smyrna, Delaware, who’s getting scammed?”
Here Come the Privacy Bills
Just minutes before Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony, at least two privacy bills were introduced. Democratic Senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut will announce during the hearing that they are introducing of a privacy bill called the Consent Act. The bill would require companies like Facebook and Google to get opt-in permission from users to use, share, or sell personal information, along with other requirements.
“Voluntary standards are not enough,” Mr. Markey said in a news release before the hearing. “The avalanche of privacy violations by Facebook and other online companies has reached a critical threshold, and we need legislation that makes consent the law of the land.
The changes of getting such a bill passed in this Congress are slim. But lawmakers today and in the House Energy & Commerce hearing on Wednesday with Mr. Zuckerberg will introduce privacy bills with the midterm elections in mind. They hope a new makeup of the Senate and House will find more support for a first-time comprehensive United States privacy law.
Mr. Blumenthal and Senator Steve Daines, a Republican of Montana, are also introducing a student privacy bill that would restrict some use of student data, particularly by third-party apps.
— Cecilia Kang
Twitter Endorses Honest Ads Legislation
Twitter said on Tuesday it supports legislation that would force social media firms like Facebook and Twitter to disclose the funding of political ads on its platform.
Twitter’s announcement came just hours before Mr. Zuckerberg’s appearance. Facebook has also endorsed the Honest Ads act and it is expected to be discussed at length during the hearings. The legislation, introduced by Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia, and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, would hold internet companies to the same disclosure rules that broadcast companies have to follow when airing political ads.
The legislation is seen as the most likely — and least intrusive — action to come from Mr. Zuckerberg’s grilling before Congress on Facebook’s mishandling of data. The online political ad disclosures bill was introduced after the revelations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election of 2016.
Washington political and policy observers say the sudden support for the Honest Ads act is a smart defensive move. By showing their willingness to accept regulations on political ads, they may avoid more onerous rules on privacy that could strike at the heart of their model.
“This is what happens when a company as important as Facebook faces this kind of scrutiny. They want to pick a regulator and work out a cultural understanding with that regulator on rules that fit with their business model,” said Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. “This helps avoid courts and harsher legislation from Congress.”
— Cecilia Kang
Continue reading the main story