Zuckerberg Testifies Before Congress

By Steven Yee, Web Manager

CREDIT: ANDREW HARNIK/AP/REX/SHUTTERSTOC

Cybersecurity and personal information are two controversial topics in the present-day that continue to receive media attention in light of Facebook’s incident with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before Congress on Capitol Hill on April 10 and 11. Zuckerberg also stood before a hearing from the Senate Judiciary, Commerce Committees, and House Energy and Commerce Committee to answer questions about how Facebook collects, uses, and safeguards user info. This slew of questioning drew national attention, representing a pivotal judicial clash of government and private tech enterprise.

The Zuckerberg testimony also returns the nation’s scrutiny of the 2016 presidential elections. Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired for President Trump’s 2016 election campaign, gained access to more than fifty million Facebook users’ private information. The information that Cambridge Analytica collected enabled Trump’s campaign party to better identify American voters’ personality and thus target advertise to influence their behavior or draw their support. While the use of media by political parties is neither illegal nor uncommon, Cambridge Analytica accessed specifically Facebook’s millions of users without transparency in the transfer of personal information.

So what information did Cambridge Analytica collect? Data collected included details regarding users’ identities, social network via friends and affiliations, and interests, tracked by “likes”, “comments”, and “shares”. These tidbits of user action data helped formulate a map of people’s personality based upon what users liked and responded to on Facebook. This intimate understanding of users was utilized to target audiences with ads, namely surrounding political issues or drama during the 2016 presidential election. Although it is uncertain how effective Trump’s micro-ad strategy was, whether it was the deciding factor or not, Cambridge Analytica’s cross of the line is what has stirred much debate. They took advantage of freely available data, circumvented terms of use and employed questionable mathematical techniques to sell insight which many say morally shouldn’t have been sold.

The controversy has once more put Facebook in the spotlight about internet privacy and the legality for Facebook to distribute user data. The public responded with genuine concern of their digital privacy, questioning Facebook what personal information was and continues to be at risk. Most general information, such as city of residence, birthday, friends, and employment are publicly visible on Facebook; all users inputting this information are agreeing to have that information visible. Other more sensitive information, however, would be considered a data breach if such information was leaked or illegally disclosed by Facebook to third-party data firms and commercial companies. Facebook keeps its users’ data relatively secure, allowing just enough to be used for their business model — an ad platform. Facebook reminds its users that all information they input is voluntary and, aside from sensitive information, is technically available to the public. It was not a data breach, but it was “a breach of trust” as Zuckerberg admitted in an interview with CNN.

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