Zuckerberg admits his mistake in data scandal

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Capitol Hill on Monday, where he met lawmakers ahead of congressional hearings yesterday and today. Top of the agenda will be Facebook's admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users may have been i
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Capitol Hill on Monday, where he met lawmakers ahead of congressional hearings yesterday and today. Top of the agenda will be Facebook's admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Facebook chief meets leaders of Congress ahead of grilling by House and Senate committees

WASHINGTON • Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg met US lawmakers individually this week and told Congress in written testimony that the social media network should have done more to prevent itself and its members' data from being misused.

Mr Zuckerberg's conciliatory tone precedes two days of congressional hearings, where he is set to answer questions about Facebook user data being improperly appropriated by a political consultancy and the role the network played in the 2016 US presidential election.

"We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake," he said in remarks released by the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday.

"It was my mistake, and I am sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I am responsible for what happens here."

Mr Zuckerberg, surrounded by tight security and wearing a dark suit and a purple tie rather than his trademark hoodie, traversed Capitol Hill on Monday ahead of his scheduled appearance before two congressional committees yesterday and today.

Mr Zuckerberg did not respond to questions as he entered and left a meeting with Senator Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. He was expected to meet Senator John Thune, the Commerce Committee's Republican chairman, later in the day, among others.

FACEBOOK'S FAILURE

We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I am sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I am responsible for what happens here.

MR MARK ZUCKERBERG, in remarks released by the US House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"The message I wanted to convey to him is that if we don't rein in the use of social media, none of us is going to have any privacy any more," Mr Nelson told reporters after the meeting.

Facebook "happens to be the point of the spear, but all these other app sites that get your personal data - that is another way of us losing our privacy", he said.

Mr Nelson added that lawmakers would be looking at other social media sites in determining any new regulations.

"It is not just Facebook," said the Florida Senator.

If Mr Zuckerberg does not provide satisfactory answers this week, Congress is more likely to push new legislation to strictly regulate Facebook.

Top of the agenda for the two-day hearings will be Facebook's admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Lawyers in Britain and the US have launched a joint class action lawsuit against Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and two other companies for allegedly misusing the personal data of more than 71 million people, The Guardian reported yesterday.

The lawsuit claims that the firms obtained users' private information from the social media network to develop "political propaganda campaigns" in the two countries, the report added.

Meanwhile, a group of 50 Vietnamese activists and rights organisations have written an open letter to Mr Zuckerberg suggesting that his company may be colluding with the communist authorities to scrub out online dissent.

The US-based human rights group Viet Tan said that several Facebook posts were censored last week during a high-profile trial of six democracy activists, who were handed heavy sentences for charges of attempting to overthrow the state.

Facebook did not deny the allegation yesterday, saying in a statement that it has global policy to "remove or restrict access to content" that breaks local laws.

"We have a clear and consistent government request process, which is no different in Vietnam to the rest of the world," said a Facebook spokesman, adding that the firm remains committed to a set of community standards that outline safe and respectful discourse.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2018, with the headline 'Zuckerberg admits his mistake in data scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe