The Facebook Inc. logo is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone against the backdrop of the Twitter Inc. banner image from Cambridge Analytica’s verified twitter page, displayed on a computer screen in this arranged photograph in London, U.K. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

Critics Focus on Facebook Privacy Before Zuckerberg Hearings

(Bloomberg) -- A Congressional critic of Facebook Inc. said lawmakers may need to consider regulating the social media giant, ahead of two days of high-profile congressional testimony by founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg.

Meanwhile, Christopher Wylie, the former employee of Cambridge Analytica who blew the whistle on a data-privacy scandal involving the analytics firm’s role in the 2016 presidential election, said some of the information improperly harvested from tens of millions of Facebook users might be stored in Russia.

Zuckerberg will testify Tuesday and Wednesday before congressional panels investigating the mishandling of its data and other revelations about the social-media giant. On Friday, as the company worked to manage the crisis, Zuckerberg said he supports proposed legislation that would require disclosure of who’s paying for political ads on social media networks.

“It may be the case” that regulation is necessary, particularly if Facebook cannot fix certain issues itself, said Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican who’ll be among the lawmakers questioning Zuckerberg during a hearing on Tuesday. “My biggest worry with all this is that the privacy issue and what I call the propagandist issue are both too big for Facebook to fix.”

Speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Kennedy said he doesn’t plan to “regulate them half to death,” but that Congress should consider whether users own their data, have the right to erase it, and must consent to its sale.

Understanding the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Story: QuickTake

Few lawmakers have called for privacy regulations on Facebook, which had an estimated 2.2 billion monthly active users at the end of 2017, although some fellow Republicans have said the planned hearings with Zuckerberg will indicate whether it’s necessary.

The harvested Facebook data “could be stored in various parts of the world, including Russia,” Wylie said in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The professor who was managing the data harvesting process was going back and forth between the U.K. and Russia,” Wylie said, an apparent reference to Cambridge University lecturer Aleksandr Kogan, who developed the app that helped Cambridge Analytica collect Facebook users’ details.

Wylie said it was difficult to verify how many people had access to the Facebook information or derivatives of that data “because it was a lot of people.”

‘Fungible’ Data

The number of Facebook profiles whose data was improperly shared with London-based Cambridge Analytica was first estimated at 50 million people. Facebook on April 5 raised that estimate to 87 million. Wylie said the true figure “could be higher, absolutely.”

“Once data leaves your database, you know, data is a fungible thing, right?” he said. “You can make as many copies as possible.”

Asked on NBC whether he had been contacted by U.S. authorities such as Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Wylie said he has been contacted by “American authorities.” He said he plans to cooperate and that his lawyer is interfacing with “both Congressional investigations and also law enforcement and the Department of Justice.”

The 33-year-old billionaire Zuckerberg is scheduled to appear before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee on Tuesday to discuss Facebook’s role in society and users’ privacy. He’ll return Wednesday for a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel.

Cambridge Analytica was funded by former Renaissance Technologies co-CEO Robert Mercer, a major supporter of President Donald Trump in 2016. Trump campaign official Steve Bannon, who went on to be White House chief strategist after Trump’s election, earlier served on the firm’s board.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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