Facebook Taps Republican to Lead Policy Team Amid Scrutiny

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. has named a new head of U.S. public policy as the company deals with ongoing fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and increasing pressure over privacy around the world.

Kevin Martin, a Republican former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who has worked for the social media platform since 2015, will take on the role on an interim basis, the company said.

The move comes in the wake of revelations that Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, obtained the personal data of as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission. Earlier in April, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress for two days over the episode, and the company is facing privacy probes by the U.S. and international authorities.

The company also confirmed it would not send a representative to a congressional committee’s Thursday hearing on "whether viewpoints have been silenced on some of the most popular and widely used platforms." Like Facebook, Google and Twitter cited scheduling conflicts in declining the panel’s invitation, according to two congressional aides with knowledge of the discussions.

Facebook’s prior policy chief, Erin Egan, will focus on her role as the company’s top privacy officer, managing the company’s audits of apps with access to large amount of user data and the notification of those whose information was misused. Facebook, which set a company record for U.S. federal lobbying in the first quarter of 2018, is also facing European privacy regulations that take effect in May.

Egan’s shift was her decision, said Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, who confirmed the moves, which were reported earlier by the New York Times.

No decision has been made about who will take over the U.S. policy job permanently, and Egan could return to the role, Stone said.

Drew Criticism

Martin, who was Facebook’s vice president of mobile and global access policy, left the FCC in 2009 at the start of the Obama administration. His tenure was marked by efforts to limit broadcast indecency and expand access to broadband. He drew criticism from congressional Democrats, who said in a report he abused his authority and created a climate of fear at the agency.

In a 2009 interview with Bloomberg TV, Martin said “ushering in a wireless broadband era” was his top accomplishment as a regulator. In an early skirmish in the prolonged battle over net neutrality, Martin as FCC chairman joined with Democratic members to censure Comcast Corp. for improperly interfering with customers’ web traffic. The agency’s other Republicans voted against punishing Philadelphia-based Comcast, the largest cable provider. Comcast prevailed in court, sending the policy battle on to successive FCC leaders including current Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who gutted his Democratic predecessor’s rule against internet service providers blocking or throttling web traffic.

New Rules

Martin arrived at the FCC in 2001 as an appointee of President George W. Bush, for whom he served as a campaign lawyer. A former deputy chief of staff to Bush, Joel Kaplan, is Facebook’s head global public policy.

In addition to the reorganization, lawmakers continue to be concerned about how content is managed by social media platforms. A Facebook spokesman said in an emailed statement the company looks forward to talking with the congressional committee examining bias on social media "about Facebook’s strong commitment to being a platform for all voices and ideas."

The panel will hear from two conservative commentators who said their Facebook content had been deemed "unsafe." Facebook’s Zuckerberg said the company had acted in error during his testimony in Washington earlier this month.

"It’s very important for us to allow different perspectives on even very controversial and upsetting issues," Facebook’s vice president of global policy management told a conservative Washington think tank on Tuesday.

The executive, Monika Bickert, said the company’s extensive rules for taking down content, which it released on Tuesday, were in part a hedge against reviewer bias. Bickert conceded the rules are imperfect and evolve.

"We get millions of reports every week of potential violations," she told the Heritage Foundation. "You want to do it consistently and make sure you’ve got the right policy enforcement whether the person’s in India or Texas."

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