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Science & Technology

Lawmakers Gearing Up To Question Facebook CEO Amid Questions Of User Data Abuse

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Eighty-seven million - Facebook says that's how many people might have had their Facebook data shared improperly with Cambridge Analytica.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The data mining firm was hired by President Trump's 2016 campaign, though Cambridge Analytica says it did not use the Facebook data on behalf of Trump.

CORNISH: Now Congress is investigating the scandal, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before three congressional committees next week. One of them is the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

KELLY: And we are joined now by Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey. He's the top Democrat on that panel. Congressman, welcome to the program.

FRANK PALLONE: Oh, thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: What is your first question going to be next week to Mark Zuckerberg?

PALLONE: Well, I'm going to ask Mr. Zuckerberg to account for Facebook's failure to protect user data and then their subsequent failure to take meaningful action for years after the data breach. But I also hope - you know, I'm going to answer the question - to get the perspective on what we can do to better protect consumer data going forward.

KELLY: Now, Facebook, as you know, has already made some fixes. They say going forward, they're going to give Americans more control over how their data online is used, adopt some of the same tools that are already in place in Europe. Does that go some way toward satisfying your concerns?

PALLONE: Well, I think it's a positive step forward, Mary Louise, but there's still a lot of outstanding questions - what actually is Facebook collecting, how it uses the data, and also how widespread this problem was and if it extends beyond Facebook. But I don't think we can just leave it up to Facebook or other groups like them to just police themselves. I think we probably need to put together legislation that applies to everyone 'cause, you know, there are various levels of good and bad actors.

KELLY: And what kind of legislation might be on the table? What tools do you have at your disposal?

PALLONE: We have a bill that I introduced with Representative Schakowsky from Illinois that basically requires companies to safeguard personal information, notify consumers if their information was misused.

KELLY: Let me ask you this. Facebook has been reluctant for months to send forward Mark Zuckerberg and to answer reporters' questions on this. Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed as crazy the idea that, for example, there was Russian interference on the platform that may have swayed votes. Do you sense that we're at a moment where real change is possible here, where Facebook is open to more questions and more regulation than it has been in past?

PALLONE: Well, Zuckerberg himself did actually say that he thinks that it's time for the tech industry to be regulated. But I think - look; it's - to me it's become clear that the current system doesn't encourage companies to do the right thing, Mary Louise, unless they've been - they have to respond to public outrage. So, you know, you, NPR and other media groups catch them. And then there's a public outrage, and then they respond. We have to figure out how to make sure that anyone, you know, who has access to this information acts responsibly before the press finds out.

KELLY: Is all of this on Facebook? Did Congress miss an opportunity to oversee, to regulate, that it should have been on this sooner?

PALLONE: Oh, I think we've missed a lot of opportunities, Mary Louise. I mean, I think that it's only now really that we're seeing how widespread this problem is. And it started with the Russians and interference with the election, and now this Cambridge Analytics (ph), which is also linked. So I think that, you know, it's a problem in general, but obviously it's - you know, we could talk about the past, but we also have to talk about what to do moving forward because even if you just look at the politics - we've got another election coming up in November.

KELLY: Sure.

PALLONE: You know, this is a concern not only for the United States but Britain and the Europe - and the other European Union countries. So, yeah, I mean, I'm hoping that all the attention that's been focused on this now will allow us to really take an in-depth look at what needs to be done legislatively.

KELLY: Congressman, thank you.

PALLONE: All right, thanks a lot. You take care.

KELLY: That's Frank Pallone of New Jersey. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, 1 of 3 committees that expect to hear next week from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.