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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Senator: Facebook has not been ‘forthcoming’ With Congress

Mark Warner said he had questioned the use of Cambridge Analytica, but Facebook “blew that off”

Senator Mark Warner, left, is the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Andrew Harnik / AP
Senator Mark Warner, left, is the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Andrew Harnik / AP

Facebook has not been “fully forthcoming” as US Congress probed Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said on Sunday as the social-media giant faced continued fallout from an ongoing data crisis.

Warner, the top member of his party on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NBC’s Meet the Press that he questioned “the use of this really sketchy firm Cambridge Analytica (CA),” but Facebook “blew that off” as they did other concerns over Russia’s actions.

The political firm CA, which consulted on President Donald Trump’s campaign, siphoned data from some 50 million Facebook users as it built an election-consulting company that boasted it could sway voters in contests all over the world. Facebook also came under scrutiny last year after the revelation that Russians had used the site in its attempts to affect the 2016 election.

Facebook took out ads in American and British newspapers on Sunday apologising for not doing more to prevent the leak of customer data and detailing fixes it has made over the years, including in recent months.

The revelation of CA’s action has caused fury against Facebook and its co-founder and chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg. Two congressional committees have invited Mr Zuckerberg to testify, and he has said he had agree if he is the right person to appear.

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“The whole industry has been reluctant to accept the fact that we’re seeing the dark underbelly of social media – and how it can be manipulated,” the Senator said. “We’re still dealing right now with … fake posts and fake accounts.”

Facebook is also contending with fallout in the UK, where the government’s privacy watchdog completed a seven-hour search early on Saturday of CA's London offices as part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, social media companies and other businesses.

The British department of digital, culture, media and sport will direct Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, Twitter and other companies to simplify their data management policies for consumers to make them easier to understand, The Sunday Times reported.

Department secretary Matt Hancock said the companies failed to provide users with clear and concise terms and conditions for how personal data is used. Facebook’s service agreement has more than 3,700 words and Twitter’s is 11,000 words long, the newspaper said.

Mr Warner also said the US should re-examine the claim, which is largely reflected in national law, that social media sites “have no responsibility for any of the content,” and he added “maybe you should be able to move all your data” when moving between sites.

On March 21, a bill to limit a website’s immunity for content when it knowingly facilitates sex trafficking passed Congress – one of the first impositions of liability for online platforms as the US debates their responsibility for what users post. Mr Trump is expected to sign it into a law.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the company has received the demands for Mr Zuckerberg to testify and is reviewing them.

Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch was called before Congress last year, and Mr Warner has said he now wants to hear testimony from Jack Dorsey, the Twitter chief executive.

After last year’s hearings, Mr Zuckerberg promised a “major ads transparency effort,” including requiring political advertisers to include a disclosure of their identities. Mr Warner has said he wants Facebook to go further. The senator has pressed tech companies for more information about Russian meddling in US elections, and called on them to harden their networks.

Questions remain about how Russia used Facebook to sway the 2016 presidential campaign. An indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller described a multi-year effort by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian outfit, and others to shape American opinions, including by impersonating Americans on Facebook, Instagram, Google’s YouTube and Twitter.

About 150 million users saw posts from a St Petersburg-based troll farm whose main purpose was to push Kremlin propaganda.

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