Breach, Compliance Management, Data Security, Network Security, Privacy

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg to testify today before Congress

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify before several Congressional committees in the coming days to address data privacy concerns around his company, as well as, the Russian election interference and from his pre-released comments, it appears the CEO won't be looking to skirt blame.

Zuckerberg is set to testify before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the Judiciary Committee in a joint hearing on April 10 and the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce on April 11.

“Facebook now plays a critical role in many social relationships, informing Americans about current events, and pitching everything from products to political candidates,” said Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., in a press release. “Our joint hearing will be a public conversation with the CEO of this powerful and influential company about his vision for addressing problems that have generated significant concern about Facebook's role in our democracy, bad actors using the platform, and user privacy.” 

Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, added the hearing will also explore approaches to privacy that satisfy consumer expectations.

Zuckerberg has taken responsibility for the recent problems and said his firm should have done more to prevent them, including the mishandling of customer data and the exploitation of public search tools, according to the testimony that was pre-released and which he expected to give before the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“It is clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy,” Zuckerberg's statement said.  “We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.

The social media platform founder went on to address the new data restrictions Facebook announced earlier this month along with efforts to investigate every app that had access to a large amount of information before greater restrictions were placed by the platform in 2014.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook was too slow to spot and respond to Russian election interference during the 2016 election cycle and announced various efforts and tools that have been deployed in the aftermath of the incident to prevent future exploitations.

In an effort to offer more transparency, Facebook has also granted access to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and various partners for independent research to increase public understanding of Facebook's role in elections and democracy.

“Facebook will grant these scholars access to proprietary data that has met the company's new, heightened security around user privacy,” the foundation said in an April 9 press release. “The committee will define research topics and invite the broader scholarly community to submit research proposals related to social media, elections and democracy, which will also be paid for by the funding consortium to ensure researchers' independence.”

The Foundation said the newly formed committee will prioritize research questions and oversee publication; the peer review process and that proposal selection will be managed by the Social Science Research Council.

Despite these positive steps Facebook may still have controversial projects still in the pipeline.

As recently as last month the company was speaking with several health organizations, including the Stanford University Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing a data-sharing agreement to share anonymized data about patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, anonymous sources told CNBC News.

The idea was to combine medical data with social and economic information gleaned from Facebook to provide “improved patient care”. To get around HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) Facebook proposed obscuring personally identifiable information in the data being shared by both sides although, the firm also proposed using hashing to match individuals who were in both data sets.

The project has since been put on hiatus in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal so the social media company can focus on "other important work, including doing a better job of protecting people's data," the firm told CNBC.

Although Facebook told that news outlet the proposal never made it past the planning stage, some security researchers said the even the idea behind the project shows a lack of regard for user privacy.

“It's hard to say what existing HIPAA legislation this project would violate without all of the facts, however, this is yet another reminder that data giants like Facebook don't understand the concept of informed consent,” FairWarning CEO Kurt Long told SC Media “If healthcare organizations knowingly give away patient data, without explicit permission of the patient, they could risk audit fines and serious legal action if sensitive medical information is misused.”

He went on to say the likelihood that patients would willingly give up this type of data is very slim given the heightened awareness and the fact that healthcare organizations need to focus on securing access to patient data to maintain trust between patient and provider.

Facebook did however, suspended the data analytics firm (CubeYou) after it the news outlet notified the company the information was using personality quizzes clearly labeled for "non-profit academic research" to help marketers find customers in a manner similar to that of Cambridge Analytica. 

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