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E&C Pushes Zuckerberg for Answers on User Data Protection


WASHINGTON, DC – The Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), held a hearing today with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to push him for answers regarding Facebook’s use, misuse, and protection of consumer data.

In his opening statement, Chairman Walden emphasized why it was critical to call on Mr. Zuckerberg to testify, “We’ve called you here today for two reasons: One is to examine alarming reports regarding breaches of trust between your company – one of the biggest and most powerful in the world – and its users. And the second reason is to widen our lens to larger questions about the fundamental relationship between tech companies and their users.”

He continued, “While Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured. I think it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things.”

Chairman Walden kicked things off by asking Mr. Zuckerberg, “You’ve recently said that you and Facebook have not done a good job of explaining what Facebook does. Back in 2012 and 2013, when a lot of this scraping of user and friend data was happening, did it ever cross your mind about how you should be communicating more clearly with users about how Facebook is monetizing their data? I understand that Facebook does not sell user data per say in the traditional sense. But it’s also just as true that user data is probably the most valuable thing about Facebook. In fact, it may be the only truly valuable thing about Facebook. Why wasn’t explaining what Facebook does with users’ data a higher priority for you as a co-founder and now as CEO?”

Mr. Zuckerberg replied, “You’re right that we don’t sell any data. I would say that we do try to explain what we do as time goes on. It’s a broad system. Every day, about a hundred billion times a day, people come to one of our products…to put in a piece of content, a photo they want to share or a message they want to send to someone. Anytime, there’s a control right there about who you want to share it with…that’s the most important thing that we do, and I think that in the product that’s quite clear. I do think that we can do a better job of explaining how advertising works.”

Mr. Zuckerberg, the hearing’s sole witness, gives his opening statement

Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH) asked, “Can you tell Facebook users that the Russians and the Chinese have not used the same methods as other third-parties to scrap the entire social network for their gain?”

Mr. Zuckerberg responded, “We have not seen that activity.”

To which Chairman Latta followed up, “None at all?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Mr. Zuckerberg stated.

Chairman Latta continued, “How many apps are there out there that you’re going to investigate?”

Mr. Zuckerberg replied, “There are tens of thousands of apps that had access to a large amount of people’s information before we locked down the platform in 2014.”

#SubDCCP Chairman Latta listens as Mr. Zuckerberg responds to his questioning

In her line of questioning, Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) posed important questions about consumers’ ownership of their personal information online, asking, “Who owns the virtual you? Who owns your presence online? I’d like for you to comment, who do you think owns an individual’s presence online…Is it [Facebook] or is it [users]?”

#SubDCCP member Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) pushed Mr. Zuckerberg on illegal online pharmacies selling opioids on Facebook, stating, “America’s in the midst of one of the worst epidemics that its ever experienced with this drug epidemic. It’s all across this country, not just in West Virginia. But your platform is still being used to circumvent the law, and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription.”

As a result of Rep. McKinley’s questions, Facebook has removed the ads.

All 55 members of the Energy and Commerce Committee review their questions as the hearing gets under way

The Majority Memorandum, witness testimony, and an archived webcast are available online HERE.

Press Release