Facebook’s hearing in the U.S. Senate today was largely anticlimactic. Even though the social media company was pressed with questions about how it handles personal data, did not provide a definitive answer, and failed to alleviate concerns, European lawmakers, as well as European regulators, seemed to have absorbed its general message.
At its first hearing before the European Parliament since the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted in March, Facebook executives defended their policies to the lawmakers and groups responsible for market regulation for the first time publicly.
On the social network, Facebook spent years designing simple and consistent user account settings to minimize friction in sharing personal information among the company’s hundreds of millions of users. Facebook altered that system in 2014 to prevent a virus called the Heartbleed security flaw from sending a copy of the user’s communications to the researchers who built the bug. That problem came to light after Facebook shared the vulnerability with academic researchers, and to allies such as the data-mining political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, the largest U.K.-based voter-enthusiasm campaign that contributed to the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential victory.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, defended the decision to share the Heartbleed vulnerability as a necessary human error made in an effort to meet congressional requests for information. Although he conceded to evidence of shortcuts in how Facebook handled key data and some of the company’s leadership changes, Zuckerberg showed little inclination to reach out to Congress and explain why Facebook may need additional laws to oversee the way users’ personal information is used in the next three years.
EU lawmakers need not look far for comfort.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament voted to direct the European Commission to press Facebook to take several actions as part of its review of Facebook’s social media policy.
One of the many immediate actions that Facebook is required to take is to create new standards for users of Facebook’s “Facebook Platform,” so that it is more accountable for the material it posts on other sites. This plan will require the company to retain information it has about its users, and ensure that a list of site owners and their terms of service and privacy policies are online and easily accessible.
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