Democrats Ratchet Up Pressure On Facebook Over Unanswered Privacy Questions

Democrats Ratchet Up Pressure On Facebook Over Unanswered Privacy Questions

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., speaks during a hearing of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 8, 2018 in Washington.

House Democrats are working to keep a flame to Facebook’s feet ahead of its anticipated responses to thousands of lingering questions over the handling of user data, as well the company’s ongoing efforts to weed out foreign-bought political ads targeting American voters.

“The midterm elections get closer with each passing day, and Facebook has many important questions to answer — without further delay — about how its platform impacts our democratic process,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland. “We need answers in short order.”

Facebook is rounding up answers to thousands of questions stemming from its interactions with lawmakers in March and April. Many “questions for the record” were submitted in early May, a month after CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But Hill staffers also point to other questions raised by lawmakers of which Facebook executives learned in advance, at a late-March bipartisan briefing, for example. The principal subject of that closed-door discussion, Gizmodo learned, was whether Facebook was actively monitoring third-party apps to detect Cambridge-Analytica-like abuse and whether Facebook could provide specific details of internal audits designed to detect it.

House Democrats say that, while the bulk of Facebook’s responses are not due until the end of the month (June 29), they had expected Zuckerberg to proactively follow-up before then; specifically to questions posed, but not adequately addressed, during his April 11 testimony. (See Gizmodo’s list here.)

“Mr. Zuckerberg has thus far failed to ‘follow-up’ on the many questions he couldn’t answer during the hearing, and Facebook has not yet responded to many other questions staff asked at a briefing held two weeks prior to the public Committee hearing,” New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., ranking Democrat on Energy & Commerce, said in statement.

Calling on Zuckerberg to “keep [his] word,” Pallone added: “Facebook’s refusal to respond is disappointing and frustrating, especially since some of our questions seem to have been partially answered in the press.”

“We are working right now to provide substantive answers to the over 2,000 questions we received coming out of the April hearings,” a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo. “We shared responses to the Senate questions last week and look forward to sharing responses with the House by the June 29 committee-imposed deadline.”

Facebook provided answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation earlier this week; an aide to Republican Sen. John Thune, chairman of the latter committee, said the chairman was still in the process of examining Facebook’s responses “as we continue to probe Facebook’s data collection and efforts to protect online privacy.”

The Senate committees’ other leaders — Senators Bill Nelson, Chuck Grassley, and Dianne Feinstein — did not respond to a request for comment regarding Facebook’s more than 450 pages of answers, many of which — such as responses to numerous questions about Facebook’s controversial VPN service, Onavo — were entirely duplicative.