Politics: A powerful Senate panel is about to haul in an all-star lineup of tech executives — and it could be brutal

Politics: A powerful Senate panel is about to haul in an all-star lineup of tech executives — and it could be brutal
Politics: A powerful Senate panel is about to haul in an all-star lineup of tech executives — and it could be brutal

Mark Zuckerberg

Major tech companies are gearing up for rounds of marathon hearings from Congress in the wake of scandals and concerns about individual privacy.

  • Three congressional committees have asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify about consumer privacy concerns.
  • The hearings could shape up to be long and brutal, shining a spotlight on the face of the company like never before.
  • Facebook is also on a hiring spree in Washington, with several postings for public policy positions.

WASHINGTON — Major technology companies, particularly Facebook, are gearing up for rounds of marathon hearings and heavy scrutiny from Congress in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other concerns about individual privacy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee extended an invitation to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday to testify on consumer privacy protections, adding to the list of congressional panels requesting his presence.

“The hearing will broadly cover privacy standards for the collection, retention and dissemination of consumer data for commercial use,” Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley said in a statement. “It will also examine how such data may be misused or improperly transferred and what steps companies like Facebook can take to better protect personal information of users and ensure more transparency in the process.”

Zuckerberg, along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, are slated to face a barrage of questions about their respective companies’ data collection and privacy policies.

While Zuckerberg expressed openness to testifying before Congress, he has yet to formally accept the several invitations from the various committees. On Tuesday, CNN reported that Zuckerberg has accepted that he will have to testify and will be preparing accordingly.

Tech executives will brace for a public spanking from lawmakers

“At the highest level, this is what Congress does best — spank executives in public on behalf on behalf of their constituents,” said R Street Institute Senior Fellow Paul Rosenzweig in a telephone interview with Business Insider on Monday. “The problem is that usually that’s about all that happens.”

What Facebook will need is to reevaluate their messaging, which has been less than satisfactory in Washington, according to lawmakers. Facebook sent officials to Capitol Hill to brief various committees. The officials’ briefings were not successful enough to prevent several invites for Zuckerberg.

“Every time Facebook says, ‘well no, you know, you signed up for that in your terms of service,’ they think they’re answering the mail and what they’re really doing is digging themselves a deeper hole,” Rosenzweig said. “So in terms of their public relations, they haven’t found the right message yet.”

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And Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Pichai will still be on defense regarding the prospect of the hearings, resulting in new legislation from Congress.

“The main thing that Facebook and Twitter are going to try and avoid is some new form of regulation — some privacy protective regulation — that, for example, prohibits the resale of personal data without explicit consent to every such resale,” said Rosenzweig. “So instead of just the terms of service, you could imagine a world in which Facebook has to say to me, ‘I wanna give this information to Cambridge Analytica, is that OK? I wanna give this information to the Democratic National Committee, is that OK?’ and whether or not that might happen.”

Another policy that could result from a rocky set of hearings from Zuckerberg and other tech executives is the creation of a data privacy commission like the European Union has, however far away such a thing might be at the moment.

The Federal Trade Commission confirmed on Monday that it is investigating Facebook as well. A way that Zuckerberg and other officials could pacify lawmakers is to publicly commit to cooperation with the FTC.

“That’s sorta how I would play it if I were them,” Rosenzweig said. “Not saying exactly what, but saying we’re gonna listen to the FTC and we’ll do what they want.”

“I think their job right now is to lean as far forward as they can in being responsive, otherwise they’re gonna fall apart I think,” Rosenzweig added.

Facebook embarks on a hiring spree in Washington

Facebook has 11 policy-related job posting on its careers website, signaling they are bulking up on lobbyists and public policy professionals as they brace for more congressional scrutiny than the company has ever seen.

Facebook’s openings include privacy and public policy managers for emerging technologies and consumer product as well as legal counsels for regulatory and political activity.

Having an arsenal of staff in Washington could help ease tensions with lawmakers. But there is still a long road ahead for the social media giant to move beyond this scandal.

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