Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent April 10 and 11 in U.S. Congressional hearings, facing the Senate on April 10 and the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11.
Among the elected officials grilling Zuckerberg was Congressional District 18 Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), who represents parts of Menlo Park, where some Facebook offices are located. (The bulk of Facebook's current Menlo Park offices falls into Rep. Jackie Speier's district.)
The company has come under growing public scrutiny since it was revealed that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, gained access to the private information of an estimated 87 million Facebook users. According to Facebook, that data had been collected by a Cambridge University researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, in 2013 using a third-party personality quiz hosted on Facebook.
Although Facebook tightened restrictions on the collection of such data in 2014, The Guardian in 2015 reported that Kogan had shared that data with Cambridge Analytica, a political-consulting firm. Facebook reports it asked Cambridge Analytica and Kogan to certify that the data had been deleted and says such assurances were received.
However, Zuckerberg testified in a written statement that the company learned last month from further news reporting that Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, may not have deleted that data.
According to the New York Times, that data included information about a person's political beliefs, interests, and friends’ information, plus, for "a small number of people," information from their Facebook timeline, posts and messages.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, in December requested that Cambridge Analytica turn over documents, according to the Wall Street Journal. In February, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 13 Russians and three companies for using social media to promote discord, undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and build support for Trump's presidential campaign.
The New York Times reported that the Russian nationals allegedly worked with the Internet Research Agency to establish hundreds of social media accounts falsely claiming to be those of Christian activists, anti-immigration groups and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to Zuckerberg's statement, the Internet Research Agency ran a "disinformation campaign" that generated about 120,000 pieces of content that an estimated 20 million people saw in the U.S., Europe and Russia, and spent approximately $100,000 on more than 3,000 ads on Facebook and Instagram that were seen by an estimated 11 million people in the U.S.
Below is a transcript from Zuckerberg's questioning by Eshoo on April 11. A spokesperson for the congresswoman stated that Eshoo's questions were drawn from constituents, who submitted 500 queries in response to an April 6 notice.
Eshoo: Thank you chairman. Good morning Mr. Zuckerberg.
First, I believe that our democratic institutions are undergoing a stress test in our country, and I believe that American companies owe something to America. I think the damage done to our democracy relative to Facebook and its platform being weaponized are incalculable. Enabling the cynical manipulation of American citizens for the purpose of influencing an election is deeply offensive. And it's very dangerous.
Putting our private information on offer, without concern for possible misuses, I think is simply irresponsible. I invited my constituents going into the weekend to participate in this hearing today by submitting what they want to ask you and so my questions are theirs, and Mr. Chairman, I'd like unanimous consent to place all of their questions in the record.
Chairman: Without objection.
Eshoo: So these are a series of yes/no questions.
Eshoo: Do you think you have a moral responsibility to run a platform that protects our democracy? Yes or no.
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, yes.
Eshoo: Have users of Facebook who are caught up in the Cambridge Analytica debacle been notified?
Zuckerberg: Yes, we are starting to notify people this week. We started Monday, I believe.
Eshoo: Will Facebook offer to all of its users a blanket opt-in to share their privacy data with any third-party users?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, yes, that's how our platform works. You have to opt in to sign in to any app before you use it.
Eshoo: Well, let me just add that it is a minefield in order to do that, and you have to make it transparent, clear, in pedestrian language, just once: this is what we will do with your data. Do you want this to happen or not? I think that this is being blurred. I think you know what I mean by it.
Are you aware of other third party information mishandlings that have not been disclosed?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, no, although we are currently going through the process of investigating every single app...
Eshoo: So you're not sure?
Zuckerberg: ...that had access to a large amount of data.
Eshoo: What does that mean?
Zuckerberg: It means that we're going to look into every app that had a large amount of access to data in the past before we locked down the platform.
Eshoo: So you're not aware?
Zuckerberg: I imagine that because there are tens of thousands of apps, I imagine there are some that have suspicious activity and when we find them....
Eshoo: I only have four minutes. Was your data included in the data sold to the malicious third parties? Your personal data?
Eshoo: It was. Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data...
Eshoo: No, are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I'm not sure what that means.
Eshoo: Well, I'll follow up with you on it. When did Facebook learn that Cambridge Analytica research project was actually for targeted psychographic political campaign work.
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, it might be useful to clarify what actually happened here.
Eshoo: I don't have time for a long answer though. When did Facebook learn that, and when you learned it, did you contact their CEO immediately, and if not, why not?
Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, yes, when we learned in 2015 that a Cambridge University researcher, associated with the academic institution that built an app that people chose to share their data with...
Eshoo: We know what happened with them. But I'm asking you.
Zuckerberg: Yes, I'm answering your question. When we learned about that...
Eshoo: From 2015 you learned about it?
Eshoo: And you spoke to their CEO immediately?
Zuckerberg: We shut down the app.
Eshoo: Did you speak to their CEO immediately?
Zuckerberg: We got in touch with them, and we asked them to... we demanded that they delete any data that they had, and their chief data officer told us that they had.