Senate committee summons Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs to testify over data theft

The hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee has been scheduled for April 10. Senator Mark Warner also sought answers from these social media companies on data protection.

Senate committee summons Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs to testify over data theft

WASHINGTON: In the wake of alleged misuse of user data on Facebook, a powerful Congressional committee on Tuesday summoned the CEOs of the top three social media platforms - Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Indian-American Sunder Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter for a hearing on data privacy.

The hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee has been scheduled for April 10.

In a statement issued by the Committee, the Chairman Chuck Grassley said that Zuckerberg has been invited to discuss the company's past and future policies regarding the protection and monitoring of consumer data. The hearing will broadly cover privacy standards for the collection, retention and dissemination of consumer data for commercial use.

"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," the media statement said.

Grassley also invited Pichai and Dorsey to discuss the future of data privacy in the social media industry and how to develop "rules of the road" that encourage companies to develop tailored approaches to privacy that satisfy consumer expectations while maintaining incentives for innovation.

Senator Mark Warner also sought answers from these social media companies on data protection.

"I celebrate the success of Facebook, Google & Twitter; but with their power comes responsibility that they must acknowledge. This isn't a Russia problem. If we value civic discourse and fair elections, they have to step up and answer to more than their shareholders," he said.

Senator Ed Markey said Facebook's failure to protect millions of Americans' private information in the Cambridge Analytica breach shows "why we cannot rely on corporations" to police themselves.
"We need laws that prevent corporations from abusing Americans privacy rights," said Markey.

Meanwhile, online news publication 'Intercept' reported that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses backend Facebook data to locate and track immigrants that it is working to round up.

Congressman Bobby L Rush has introduced a legislation that would require the FTC to issue regulations requiring companies like Facebook that own or possess data containing personal information to establish specified security policies and procedures to treat and protect such information.

Last week, India had also warned Zuckerberg against 'data theft' and said that he can be summoned if needed. "Mr Mark Zuckerberg you better note the observation of the IT Minister of India. We welcome the FB profile in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through the collusion of FB system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent power in the IT Act, we shall use it, including summoning you in India," Union IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said.

Prasad had added that the Indian government fully supports freedom of press, speech and expression and is all for free exchange of ideas on social media. Any attempt by social media sites, including Facebook, to influence India's electoral process through undesirable means will, however, not be tolerated, he had told reporters outside Parliament.

"Let me make it very, very clear. We fully support freedom of press, speech and expression; we fully support free exchange of ideas on social media. But any attempt, covert or overt, by social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India's electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated," he had said. "If need be, stringent action will be taken," Prasad had added. He had also said that his government is looking at the issue as a matter of national security.

The warning to Facebook came even as a political slugfest continues between the ruling BJP and the Congress over allegations that the opposition party has engaged the services of British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This also comes in context of the heat that Facebook is facing globally after Cambridge Analytica was accused of harvesting data of up to 50 million users without permission, and using the data to help politicians, including US President Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and British lawmakers have launched separate proves into the potential breach of user confidentiality by Facebook.

(With inputs from PTI)

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