Congress has formally asked Mark Zuckerberg to testify about a data privacy scandal after the Facebook CEO said he would be “happy” to speak to legislators.
In his first public comments on revelations that a firm employed by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign – Cambridge Analytica – had obtained information on some 50 million Facebook users, Mr Zuckerberg pledged to tighten rules around app data collection and suggested he would be willing to appear before Congress.
“I’m happy to if it’s the right thing to do”, Mr Zuckerberg told CNN, although he qualified that offer by saying “we just want to make sure that we send whoever is best informed”.
For the Republican chair and top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, there was no doubt about who that person would be.
“Mr. Zuckerberg has stated that he would be willing to testify if he is the right person. We believe, as CEO of Facebook, he is the right witness to provide answers to the American people”, Oregon Republican Greg Walden and New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone said in a statement.
Seeking to allay a rising political backlash, Facebook has dispatched representatives to brief people on Capitol Hill. But Mr Walden and Mr Pallone said those emissaries were not sufficient.
“After committee staff received a briefing yesterday from Facebook officials, we felt that many questions were left unanswered”, they wrote, adding they would send Mr Zuckerberg a letter requesting he appear.
Asked if Mr Zuckerberg would comply, a Facebook spokesman referred the Independent to his comments to CNN.
Multiple members of Congress have demanded in recent days that Mr Zuckerberg account for how Cambridge Analytica was able to sweep up reams of user data.
In a Facebook post and interviews, Mr Zuckerberg echoed his company’s public explanation that researcher Aleksander Kogan wrongfully shared data from an app with Cambridge Analytica and that the consulting firm then lied about deleting the data. He said privacy safeguards instituted in 2014 prohibit apps from collecting as much information as Mr Kogan did and vowed to further bolster privacy rules.
But those statements were not enough to mollify legislators who continued to call for Mr Zuckerberg himself to appear before Congress. Last year, when Congress held hearings on how Russian-affiliated actors used social media to spread misinformation and propaganda, Facebook sent its general counsel to testify.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, went so far as to say Mr Zuckerberg should be subpoenaed if he declines to testify.
“Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify under oath in public before the Judiciary Committee. He owes it to the American people”, Mr Blumenthal told reporters.