Zuckerberg to face Congress as Cambridge Analytica fallout continues

10 Apr 2018

Facebook HQ, Menlo Park, California. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Mark Zuckerberg expects a grilling from US politicians on data furore.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg aims to strike a conciliatory tone as he is set to testify in front of US lawmakers this week.

The aftershocks of the Cambridge Analytica scandal continue, while Facebook has put in place new measures to counteract suspicious ads and reduce access to personal data by app developers.

Today (10 April), Zuckerberg will testify before a joint hearing of the Senate commerce and judiciary committees over data misuse and will then discuss the same topic before the Senate energy and commerce committee on Wednesday (11 April).

A difficult week ahead for Facebook

The hearings will be a major test for Zuckerberg, as he will be facing the politicians alone – politicians who will be demanding answers to tough questions from themselves and the public they represent.

While the continuing placement of blame on ‘bad actors’ will likely be heard again, Zuckerberg will need to pull the curtain back on the machinations of the company as representatives seek evidence of concrete solutions being put in place.

In his prepared comments, Zuckerberg noted that the company’s security team had been aware of traditional Russian cyber threats, such as hacking and malware, for years. “Leading up to election day in November 2016, we detected and dealt with several threats with ties to Russia, including activity by a group called APT28 that the US government has publicly linked to Russian military intelligence services.”

He said that while Facebook’s “primary focus was on traditional threats, the firm saw some new behaviour in the summer of 2016 when APT28-related accounts, under the banner of DCLeaks, created fake personas that were used to seed stolen information to journalists”. These accounts were shut down.

He may also have to discuss the thorny subject of potential government regulations against Facebook and other companies that deal in data, something that has been brought up in the wake of Cambridge Analytica and the previous rumblings around political interference on social media.

Election research initiative

Among its other initiatives to ensure it is a more accountable and transparent firm, Facebook also recently launched a scheme that will involve an independent election research commission being able to hand over “privacy-protected data” to select researchers “where appropriate”.

The commission, once established, will have the authority to regularly report on its activities, and Facebook “will not have any right to review or approve their research findings prior to publication”.

Zuckerberg said: “The goal is both to get the ideas of leading academics on how to address these issues as well as to hold us accountable for making sure we protect the integrity of these elections on Facebook.”

He admitted: “Looking back, it’s clear we were too slow identifying election interference in 2016, and we need to do better in future elections.”

Elliot Schrage, vice-president of communications and public policy at Facebook, and David Ginsberg, director of research, wrote: “First, we think it’s an important new model for partnerships between industry and academia. Second, the last two years have taught us that the same Facebook tools that help politicians connect with their constituents – and different communities debate the issues they care about – can also be misused to manipulate and deceive.”

An unclear future

According to The Wall Street Journal, employee morale is being closely monitored and many staff feel that the outrage towards the company is misplaced and unfair. Several former and current staff members said they believed the privacy failure was “incompetent, but not malicious” and the overall purpose of Facebook is positive – to connect people for the greater good.

While the outcome is as yet unclear, there are solid steps being taken towards the creation of a more transparent platform – but it will take time for the results of these to come to fruition.

Facebook HQ, Menlo Park, California. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects