Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and CEO of Facebook, has a big job ahead of him this week if he wants Congress to hit the “like” button.
Millions of Facebook users have been learning the company essentially looked the other way as an unknown number of companies and individuals made off with users’ personal data. It’s the latest reminder of how little many online companies — think Equifax and countless others that failed to protect personal data — dwell on personal privacy.
For Facebook, the most recent scandal was Cambridge Analytica, a company hired by the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump. That company got access to the private data of up to 87 million Facebook users.
Facebook has announced security changes, including notifying users whose data was accessed by Cambridge Analytica and also notifying them what information they have shared with other apps. But we still live in a world of pervasive online surveillance that makes Big Brother look like a privacy watchdog.
On Tuesday, Zuckerberg will answer questions during a joint hearing of U.S. Senate committees, and on Wednesday he’ll go before a House committee.
Here are some of the things we’d like to hear lawmakers ask him:
- Shouldn’t users be allowed control their personal data? Specifically, should the United States adopt controls similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect next month and lets users correct data and transfer their data elsewhere, while letting regulators impose big fines on companies that don’t comply? If such a law is not the answer, in what other way can users regain control of their personal information? Why does Facebook oppose a proposed California ballot measure that would give users the right to know what data about them is being collected and how it is being used?
- In your prepared remarks released on Monday, Mr. Zuckerberg, you talk about how Facebook has failed individuals. Doesn’t the company, by its enormous reach, also have large responsibilities to our democracy and our nation as a whole?
- Facebook knew about Cambridge Analytica’s data gathering back in 2015. Why wasn’t the public told then?
- Is the model of a company that collects personal data to sell to a wide variety of advertisers and others simply incompatible with the goal of protecting users’ personal data, some of which is collected without their knowledge? Will Facebook make it possible for users to retract information they no longer want to be accessible to others, including information gathered through facial recognition software? Over the weekend, “Saturday Night Live” mocked you for resisting this kind of empowerment by Facebook users.
- How many other companies are using deceptive techniques to gather data via Facebook, and are they mishandling it once they have it? Recently, Facebook suspended another company, CubeYou, that used personality quizzes similar to the one Cambridge Analytica used to access the personal data of users and their friends. Will Facebook be able to stop such abuses in the future or are they beyond control?
- Why didn’t Facebook do more to keep fake news from circulating and prevent foreign interference in our elections? Can we expect a future in which trolls and other abuses of social media become a regular part of political campaigns?
- How can we be assured that large social media companies won’t use their power to favor politicians whose views align best with those of the companies? How can we be assured that a particular politician or party won’t get broader reach, cheaper ad rates or more access to user information?
We hope the fact that some in Congress have accepted political donations from Facebook will not temper their questioning.
If lawmakers do their jobs well, they might open a window into how social media companies use our personal data in ways that no one suspects, and we will all be better off for it.
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