Cantwell Questions Facebook on Consumer Data, Privacy

Cantwell: “I believe you have all the talent - the question is whether you have all the will to help us solve this problem”

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a joint Senate committee hearing. At the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Cantwell specifically asked about Facebook’s efforts to protect consumer data as well as what could be done at the federal level to protect consumers.

In addition, Cantwell also asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s interactions with Cambridge Analytica and its history with Palantir – a data analytics company connected to Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member and former Trump advisor.

Video and a full transcript of Cantwell’s questions and Zuckerberg’s responses is below.

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Senator Maria Cantwell

Joint Hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee on Facebook,

Social Media Privacy, and the Use and Abuse of Data

Witness: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO

April 10, 2018

CANTWELL: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Welcome Mr. Zuckerberg. Do you know who Palantir is?


CANTWELL: Some people have referred to them as a Stanford Analytica. Do you agree?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I have not heard that.

CANTWELL: Ok. Do you think Palantir taught – Cambridge Analytica’s press reports are saying – how to do these tactics?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I don’t know.

CANTWELL: Do you think that Palantir has ever scraped data from Facebook?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I’m not aware of that.

CANTWELL: Ok. Do you think that, during the 2016 campaign, as Cambridge Analytica was providing support to the Trump campaign under Project Alamo, were there any Facebook people involved in that sharing of technique and information?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, we provided support to the Trump campaign similar to what we provide to any advertiser or campaign who asks for it.

CANTWELL: So that was a yes. Was that a yes?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, can you repeat the specific question? I just want to make sure I get specifically what you’re asking.

CANTWELL: During the 2016 campaign, Cambridge Analytica worked with the Trump campaign to refine tactics. Were Facebook employees involved in that?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I don’t know that our employees were involved with Cambridge Analytica, although I know that we did help out the Trump campaign overall, in sales support, in the same way we do with other campaigns.

CANTWELL: So they may have been involved in all working together during that time period. Maybe that’s something your investigation will find out.

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I can certainly have my team get back to you on any specifics that I don’t know, sitting here today.

CANTWELL: Have you heard of total information awareness? Do you know what I’m talking about?

ZUCKERBERG: No I do not.

CANTWELL: Ok. Total information awareness was in 2003 – John Ashcroft and others trying to do similar things to what I think is behind all of this. Geopolitical forces trying to get data and information to influence a process. So when I look at Palantir and what they’re doing, and I look at What’sApp, which is another acquisition, and I look at where you are from the 2011 consent decree, and where you are today, I’m thinking, is this guy outfoxing the foxes? Or is he going along with what is a major trend in an information age, to try to harvest information for political forces? And so my question to you is, do you see that those applications, that those companies – Palantir and even What’sApp – are going to fall into the same situation that you’ve just fallen into over the last few years?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I’m not sure specifically. Overall, I do think that these issues around information access are challenging. To the specifics about those apps, I’m not really that familiar with what Palantir does. What’sApp collects very little information, and I think is less likely to have the kind of issues, because of the way the service is architected. But certainly I think these are broad issues across the tech industry.

CANTWELL: Well, I guess, given the track record where Facebook is and why you’re here today, I guess people would say that they didn’t act boldly enough. And the fact that people like John Bolton basically was an investor – in a New York Times article, I guess it was actually last month – the Bolton PAC was obsessed with how America was becoming limp-wristed and spineless and wanted research and messaging for national security issues. So, the fact that there are a lot of people who are interested in this larger effort – and what I think my constituents want to know is, was this discussed at your board meetings? And what are the applications and interests that are being discussed without putting real teeth into this? We don’t want to come back to this situation again. I believe you have all the talent – the question is whether you have all the will to help us solve this problem.

ZUCKERBERG: Yes, Senator. So data privacy and foreign interference in elections are certainly topics that we’ve discussed at the board meeting. These are some of the biggest issues that the company has faced, and we feel a huge responsibility to get these right.

CANTWELL: Do you believe the European regulations should be applied here in the US?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I think everyone in the world deserves good privacy protection, and regardless of whether we implement the exact same regulations – I would guess it would be somewhat different, because we have somewhat different sensibilities in the US, as do other countries – we’re committed to rolling out the controls and the affirmative consent and the special controls around sensitive types of technology, like face recognition, that are required in GDPR. We’re doing that around the world. So, I think it’s certainly worth discussing, whether we should have something similar in the US, but what I would like to say today is that we’re going to go forward and implement that, regardless of what the regulatory outcome is.