Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to testify before US Congress: Source

An illustration picture of the Russian language version of Facebook, featuring Zuckerberg.
An illustration picture of the Russian language version of Facebook, featuring Zuckerberg.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg plans to testify before US Congress, a source briefed on the matter said on Tuesday (March 27), as he bows to pressure from lawmakers insisting he explain how 50 million users’ data ended up in the hands of a political consultancy.

Lawmakers in the United States and Europe are demanding to know more about the company’s privacy practices after a whistleblower said consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed data to target US and British voters in close-run elections.

Facebook said on Tuesday the company had received invitations to testify before Congress and that they were talking to legislators.

House Energy and Commerce Committee spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said “The committee is continuing to work with Facebook to determine a day and time for Mr. Zuckerberg to testify.”

On the same day, Zuckerberg turned down British lawmakers’ invitations to explain to a British parliamentary committee what went wrong.

The company said it would instead send one of his deputies, suggesting that chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer or chief product officer Chris Cox had the expertise to answer questions on the complex subject.

The head of the committee called Zuckerberg’s decision “astonishing” and urged him to think again.

Facebook shares closed down 4.9 per cent on Tuesday and have fallen almost 18 per cent since March 16, when Facebook first acknowledged that user data had been improperly channelled to Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The privacy breach has raised investor concerns that any failure by big tech companies to protect privacy could deter advertisers and lead to tougher regulation.

Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who once worked at Cambridge Analytica, said on Monday that Canadian company AggregateIQ had developed the software that used the algorithms from the Facebook data to target Republican voters in the 2016 US election.

AggregateIQ did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wylie’s remarks. Cambridge Analytica said it had not shared any of the Facebook profile data with AggregateIQ.

 
 

Cambridge Analytica said last Monday it did not use Facebook data in Trump’s campaign, and that it had deleted all Facebook data it obtained from a third-party app in 2014 after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules.

In full-page advertisements in British and US newspapers this week Zuckerberg said the app built by a university researcher “leaked Facebook data of millions of people in 2014”.

He apologised last week for the mistakes the company had made and promised to restrict developers’ access to user information as part of a plan to protect privacy.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee said on Monday it had invited Zuckerberg, as well as the CEOs of Alphabet and Twitter to testify at an April 10 hearing on data privacy.

The US House Energy and Commerce Committee and US Senate Commerce Committee had already formally asked Zuckerberg to appear at a congressional hearing.

The US Federal Trade Commission took the unusual step of announcing on Monday that it had opened an investigation into the company – which it generally only does in cases of great public interest – citing media reports that raise what it called “substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook”.