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Zuckerberg to face angry lawmakers as Facebook firestorm rages
MARK Zuckerberg will appear before US lawmakers this week as a firestorm rocks Facebook over its data privacy scandal, with pressure mounting for new regulations on social media platforms.
The 33-year-old chief executive is expected to face a grilling before a Senate panel on Tuesday, and follow up with an appearance in the House of Representatives the following day.
It comes amid a raft of inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic following disclosures that data on 87 million users was hijacked and improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy working for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
On Sunday, Facebook said that it had suspended another data analysis firm, US-based Cubeyou, after CNBC reported that it used Facebook user information - harvested from psychological testing apps, as in the case of Cambridge Analytica - for commercial purposes.
"These are serious claims, and we have suspended CubeYou from Facebook while we investigate them," said a Facebook spokesman. "If they refuse or fail our audit, their apps will be banned from Facebook."
Lawmakers, meanwhile, have signalled that they intend to get tough on Facebook and other online services over privacy.
"A day of reckoning is coming for websites like @facebook," Democratic Senator Ed Markey wrote on Twitter last Friday. "We need a privacy bill of rights that all Americans can rely upon."
Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, agreed that legislation is needed "to protect Americans' dignity and privacy from bad faith actors like Cambridge Analytica, who use social media data to manipulate people". He tweeted: "Self-regulation will not work. Congress must act in the public interest to protect consumers and citizens."
Several lawmakers and activists believe that the United States should follow the lead of Europe's data protection law set to be implemented in May, which has strict terms for notification and sharing of personal data online.
Mr Zuckerberg told reporters that Facebook would follow the European rules worldwide, although he cautioned that its implementation may not be "exactly the same format" for various countries and regions.
Facebook meanwhile announced last Friday that it will require political ads on its platform to state who is paying for the message and would verify the identity of the payer, in a bid to curb outside election interference.
The change is meant to avoid a repeat of the manipulation efforts by Russian-sponsored entities which sought to foment discord in 2016, and also responds to criticism about anonymous messages based on Facebook profile data.
Mr Zuckerberg said that the change will mean that "we will hire thousands of more people" to get the new system in place ahead of US midterm elections in November.
"We're starting this in the US and expanding to the rest of the world in the coming months," he said on his Facebook page. "These steps by themselves won't stop all people trying to game the system. But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election, and use fake accounts and pages to run ads."
Mr Zuckerberg said that Facebook is now endorsing the Honest Ads Act, a bill that would require disclosure of the sources of online political ads. "Election interference is a problem that's bigger than any one platform, and that's why we support the Honest Ads Act," he said. "This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online."
Some activists said that Facebook needs to do more to guard against manipulation and deception on the platform. Facebook "should really be turning their attention not only to election ads but to all ads", said Harlan Yu of the technology and social justice nonprofit group Upturn.
"They should disclose to the public a detailed accounting of all the bad ads they're taking down," Mr Yu told a forum last Thursday at the New America Foundation.
Facebook is also likely to face questions on whether it violated a 2011 agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Activists have alleged that the social network failed to live up to promises to protect privacy.
David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor who headed the FTC's enforcement division when the Facebook deal was negotiated, called the latest incident a "major breach" of the court-supervised settlement. "Facebook is now a serial offender," he said in a Harvard Law Review blog post. But Prof Vladeck noted that a major problem with Facebook's privacy woes comes from its failure to get written contracts and guarantees with third parties such as app developers. AFP