Following allegations that the information of 50 million Facebook users was obtained by Cambridge Analytica without consent and failing to delete it when told to do so, lawmakers have formally invited Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to testify on the matter.
Time reports that a minimum of four lawmakers of different political leanings are demanding Zuckerberg’s appearance in person to explain the breach. This started with a letter by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican, to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee requesting Mark’s appearance to clear the air on the controversial matter.
“A hearing featuring testimony with CEOs would provide the Committee the opportunity to hear an update on the progress of these companies’ voluntary measures to combat attempted foreign interference and what is being done to protect Americans’ data and limit abuse of the platforms, as well as to assess what measures should be taken before the next elections,” asserts Klobuchar and Kennedy.
Also in favor of the move by Sen. Klobuchar and Kennedy are Vancouver Senator Mark Warner, Democrat, and Kansas Republican Jerry Moran. Warner tweeted on his handle that “it’s time” for Mark Zuckerberg and other officials to “come and testify.”
Over the weekend, The Guardian reported that over 50 million Facebook accounts were harvested for Cambridge Analytica by Global Science Research, a research company led by an Oxford academic Aleksandr Kogan. Kogan and his company did this through This Is Your Digital Life, an app built to collect data from some 270,000 respondents who believed they were providing answers for academic research.
But the app did not just collect data for academic use as stated. It also collected information of the respondents’ friends so that an initial pool of 270,000 widened to 50 million Facebook profiles. Under its Platform Policy, developers are allowed to collect data for improved user experience and are strictly forbidden to sell it or use it for advertising. However, Kogan may have used this same opening in the policy to harvest the trove of data, thereby breaching Facebook’s data policy.
The data was then sold to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy that Trump hired to manage his campaign. This was the data that the consultancy used to individually target the 50 million Americans by profiling them and delivering Trump-supporting material to them; a move which may have significantly determined the eventual course of the 2016 election. The revelation was made by an ex-staff member at Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie.
Facebook admitted this much in its statement on March 16 where it revealed that Kogan actually “lied” to it by violating the Platform Policies when he passed on the information collected through Facebook log-in to third-party actors Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies.
However, Cambridge Analytica has defended itself through a statement issued on March 17. In it, the company claimed that the data was derived from its contract with Global Science Research and when it discovered the fidelity of the data was in doubt, it deleted all of it.
In the heat of the crises this has generated, some top officials at Facebook are angry at what they perceive to be a pattern of keeping quiet in moments like this. Insiders feel that either Mark is not doing enough with the personal clout he has built or Sheryl Sandberg, who is equally a brand with wide appeal, needs to take more responsibility.