Mark Zuckerberg Testimony: A Critical Test for Facebook

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.

Zuckerberg Arrives at the Senate

Mr. Zuckerberg has arrived at the Hart Senate Building, along with an entourage of about a dozen Facebook staffers.

Mr. Zuckerberg is still waiting in a holding room, but Facebook’s Vice President of communications and public policy, Elliot Schrage, said that he hoped the hearings would give Congress a better sense of “how these things happen, why they happen, and what we’re doing to fix them.”

Zuckerberg Welcomed by Dozens of Zuckerbergs on the Hill


Greeting Mr. Zuckerberg on Tuesday are dozens of cardboard cutouts of his own image wearing “fix fakebook.” in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Lawrence Jackson for The New York Times

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.

Mr. Kogan said that the private messages were harvested as part of research that was conducted at Cambridge University in 2013 and the first half of 2014, before he began working with Cambridge Analytica.


The messages were collected for research into how people use emojis to convey emotions. They were kept securely in his university lab, known as the Cambridge Pro-Sociality and Well Being Lab, and access was restricted to a small group of people, Mr. Kogan said.

The message data “was obviously sensitive so we tried to be careful about who could access it,” Mr. Kogan said.

He stressed that his Facebook app only harvested messages from a “couple thousand” people who completed his questionnaire, not from their friends, he said.

During Mr. Kogan’s later work for Cambridge Analytica, his Facebook app would harvest data from people who took his questionnaire and from all their friends. But the data did not include private messages — it included only names, birth dates, locations and pages the users had liked, he said.

— Kevin Roose, Matthew Rosenberg and Sheera Frenkel

A Hot-Ticket Hearing


People lined up outside the hearing room on Tuesday.

Tom Brenner/The New York Times

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


Does Facebook Know You Better Than You Do?

What makes you tick, who you know, where you go, even where you might end up. The information you share in your profile is a mere snippet of what Facebook and its partners really know about you. Kevin Roose, a technology columnist for The Times, explains.



Watch in Times Video »

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?”

—Nicholas Fandos

Expect Theatrics but Few New Revelations

Alvaro Bedoya, a former Senate privacy adviser, points out on Twitter that these types of hearings usually don’t produce new revelations.

“This is not a true fact-finding expedition,” he wrote. “This is 70% Kabuki theater, 30% cross-examination. The script is mostly known; the question is how it’s said.”

Instead, we should expect Mr. Zuckerberg to focus on what Facebook has already divulged: the 87 million users whose data was leaked, the company’s changes to its data-sharing policies, and the efforts it has undertaken to prevent future Russian interference.

— Kevin Roose

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

Harsh Questioning by Democrats Could Reveal Extent of Washington’s Tech Rift


Senators Dianne Feinstein, left, and Kamala Harris, Democrats of California, in January.

Erin Schaff for The New York Times

Silicon Valley’s hometown representatives, Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat of the Judiciary committee, and Kamala Harris, a junior Democrat, will be important to watch. Among the areas to keep an eye on: Whether they push for privacy regulation and tougher enforcement powers at the Federal Trade Commission.

Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, has seen her profile rise quickly within the Democratic party and she, along with Cory Booker of New Jersey, are expected to run for higher office. They may make their criticism of Silicon Valley into a political issue to lay the groundwork for future campaigns.

The harshest questions may come from former prosecutors in the Judiciary Committee. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut and Ms. Harris are former prosecutors who are expected to grill Mr. Zuckerberg on what he knew and when during the Cambridge Analytica scandal and they are skilled at keeping witnesses off their talking points.

— Cecilia Kang

Eye on Republicans

While Democrats will be among the most vocal critics of Facebook, it is worth watching what regulation-wary Republicans convey during the hearings. If Republican lawmakers indicate that they believe privacy laws are needed or that the Federal Trade Commission needs to clamp down harder on its enforcement of companies like Facebook, that could portend real change.

Their comments could guide the incoming members of the commission, who are inheriting the agency’s investigation of Facebook’s violations of its 2011 agreement on privacy protections.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday morning that Facebook’s misuse of data has “clearly broken consumer trust.” He said the Cambridge Analytica episode was “a catalyst for a conversation that, frankly, is long overdue.”


Senator Charles E. Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in December.

Tom Brenner/The New York Times

And he swept up other internet companies in his criticism, saying in an op-ed published in Fortune, that “significant data collection isn’t limited to Facebook—it’s the crux of a business model for a growing and innovative industry. Google, Twitter, Apple, and Amazon have built an ever-expanding portfolio of products and services that grant endless opportunities to collect increasing amounts of information on their customers.”

But Mr. Grassley stopped short of saying he supports privacy regulation. His comments portend a divide within Congress on the need for data protection laws or pushing the companies to regulate themselves.

— Cecilia Kang

Is Facebook a Media Company?

A central question surrounding Facebook is whether it is a media company. It is the world’s largest platform for news and information and has thousands of people now making decisions on editorial content.

Lawmakers — like Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas — are expected to focus on whether the company’s algorithms and staff suppress conservative views or if they skew content with a political bent.

The determination as to whether Facebook is a media company is critical: If it’s defined as a media company, Facebook could face many more regulatory pressures, including at the Federal Communications Commission.

— Cecilia Kang

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