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Zuckerberg Faces Congress Next Week as Possibly Harvested Data Jumps to 87M Users

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with a group of entrepreneurs and innovators during a round-table discussion in St. Louis on Nov. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

WASHINGTON — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg committed to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next Wednesday, one stop on what is sure to be a testy congressional tour after lawmakers return from spring break.

“This hearing will be an important opportunity to shed light on critical consumer data privacy issues and help all Americans better understand what happens to their personal information online,” Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a joint statement announcing Zuckerberg’s scheduled appearance.

Zuckerberg has been invited to testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. The Senate Commerce Committee also wants to hear from Zuckerberg, though no hearing has been announced.

Facebook announced mid-month that it hired a forensic analysis firm to delve into Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm that worked on President Trump’s campaign, after reports that the company held onto user data that had been improperly harvested through a professor’s personality test app.

With original reports that data on 50 million users had been improperly accessed, Facebook today upgraded that number to up to 87 million.

Cambridge Analytica said in a statement that they “licensed data for no more than 30 million people” through research company GSR. “We did not receive more data than this,” the UK-based company added. “We did not use any GSR data in the work we did in the 2016 US presidential election.”

Zuckerberg told reporters today that fixing the company’s problems, which also include platform dissemination of fake news that he’s likely to get grilled about on Capitol Hill, will take years.

The European Union is investigating Facebook’s privacy practices, as is the Federal Trade Commission.

Facebook released today a clarification of data privacy terms. “We explain the services we offer in language that’s easier to read. We’re also updating our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it in Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and other products,” the company said in a statement. “These updates are about making things clearer. We’re not asking for new rights to collect, use or share your data on Facebook. We’re also not changing any of the privacy choices you’ve made in the past.”

The social media platform also announced other changes to data access beginning today. “Facebook will need to approve all apps that request access to information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups. We started approving these permissions in 2014, but now we’re tightening our review process — requiring these apps to agree to strict requirements before they can access this data,” the company said. “We will also no longer allow apps to ask for access to personal information such as religious or political views, relationship status and details, custom friends lists, education and work history, fitness activity, book reading activity, music listening activity, news reading, video watch activity, and games activity. In the next week, we will remove a developer’s ability to request data people shared with them if it appears they have not used the app in the last 3 months.”

Facebook said Tuesday that it had removed 70 Facebook and 65 Instagram accounts and 138 Facebook pages controlled by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency. Several members of the IRA were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for their role in the 2016 campaign influence operation. Facebook said 95 percent of the removed accounts and pages were publishing in Russian, and had more than a million followers.