Facebook to Take ‘Broad View’ of Responsibility
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Monday, April 9, 2018

Facebook to Take ‘Broad View’ of Responsibility

Facebook, Inc., Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg plans to tell House lawmakers on Wednesday that he is sorry for the "big mistake" of not taking a broad enough view of the company’s responsibility with respect to both content on the site and the way in which user data is collected and used, and to pledge to change that approach going forward, even if that means profits take a hit.

In his written testimony submitted ahead of the April 11 hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Zuckerberg cites the benefits of Facebook as "a powerful … tool to stay connected to the people they love, make their voices heard, and build communities and businesses." However, he acknowledges that "it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.

"So now we have to go through every part of our relationship with people and make sure we’re taking a broad enough view of our responsibility," he continues.

"It’s not enough to just connect people, we have to make sure those connections are positive. It’s not enough to just give people a voice, we have to make sure people aren’t using it to hurt people or spread misinformation. It’s not enough to give people control of their information, we have to make sure developers they’ve given it to are protecting it too. Across the board, we have a responsibility to not just build tools, but to make sure those tools are used for good," he says.

As for specifics, Mr. Zuckerberg in his written testimony recounts actions Facebook is taking in the wake of the revelations of unauthorized data collection by Cambridge Analytica (TR Daily, March 26) to "limit the information developers can access and put more safeguards in place to prevent abuse," including "removing developers’ access to your data if you haven’t used their app in three months" and "reducing the data you give an app when you approve it to only your name, profile photo, and email address."

"We’re in the process of investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information before we locked down our platform in 2014. If we detect suspicious activity, we’ll do a full forensic audit. And if we find that someone is improperly using data, we’ll ban them and tell everyone affected," Mr. Zuckerberg adds.

As for Russian interference in U.S. elections, Mr. Zuckerberg says the company by year-end will add 5,000 additional people to its current team of 15,000 working on security and content review, which "will significantly impact our profitability going forward. But I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits."

He says that Facebook is "happy to keep working with Congress" on legislation to increase transparency regarding political campaign or issue advertising, but that in the meanwhile the company is requiring such advertisers to be authorized, subject to a confirmed identify and location, and to make that identity available to users who see the ad (TR Daily, April 6).

Mr. Zuckerberg is also scheduled to testify tomorrow at a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Transportation, and Science Committee. His written testimony for that hearing was not available as of TR Daily’s news deadline.

Meanwhile, House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R., Ore.) discussed Facebook and other social media platforms during an appearance this morning at the 2018 NAB Show in Las Vegas (see separate story). Mr. Walden answered questions during a one-on-one session with National Association of Broadcasters President and Chief Executive Officer Gordon Smith.

"To date, there is really no regulation on social media like Facebook … and yet they compete for eyes and ears and advertising dollars," Mr. Smith said. "We’re in the same business as them in a sense, but we’re highly regulated. Do we need less regulation for us or does there need to be something for them?"

"These are serious matters. People need to know how their data, how their photos, everything they do on Facebook is used or is supposed to be used," replied Mr. Walden, who said he planned to speak with Mr. Zuckerberg after his NAB show appearance. "There is regulation in the sense that they have user agreements. If they violate those, there are processes and procedures in place through the Federal Trade Commission to bring about enforcement actions. But I think it’s a broader question about the evolving nature of our media platforms, whether they’re over the air radio or TV, whether they’re social media … you name it."

"My whole job is to get to the facts first and then figure out where the right policy is going forward," Mr. Walden added, noting this week’s hearing will be the first time that Mr. Zuckerberg has appeared before his panel.

"He’s an incredible innovator, [he’s] changed the world, and that’s what we want to spur in America," the lawmaker stressed. "But there is this argument about how legacy regulation shackles legacy industries, if you will, when new entrants come about without regulation, and clearly, Silicon Valley’s never been regulated. It’s part of the way they create companies overnight."

"I’m more in the light touch regulation side. Clean out the underbrush of legacy regulation side and let people compete and the market decide," Mr. Walden said.

"We appreciate the cleaning up of the underbrush that you’ve done already with respect to us," replied Mr. Smith.

Ahead of both the House and Senate hearings, the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to ask Mr. Zuckerberg why Facebook has "failed to take sufficient steps to ensure that advertisers do not wrongly exclude individuals from housing, employment, credit, and public accommodation ads based on gender, ethnic affinity, age, or other protected characteristics?"

The ACLU also said that lawmakers should ask the Facebook CEO if the company will "provide privacy protections related to consent, retention, data portability, and transparency to American consumers that it will provide to EU consumers as a result of Europe’s law on data protection, the General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’), which will go into effect on May 25, 2018? In short, does Facebook plan to offer better privacy protection to Europeans than it does to Americans?" —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com, and Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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