It’s finally happening.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is coming to Capitol Hill on April 11 for his first-ever congressional testimony, a House committee announced Wednesday morning.
“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,” said Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon and Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey in a joint statement as heads of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee said more details on the hearing would be forthcoming.
Next Wednesday, however, might not be Zuckerberg’s only congressional hearing. A Facebook spokesperson told VICE News that conversations with other committees are ongoing. Always in slight competition with the House, the Senate will likely demand their own hearing as well. Several senators, including the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, have called for the Facebook CEO to testify.
Zuckerberg’s testimony comes in response to the revelation that a third-party app developer had improperly sold the personal data of up to 50 million Facebook users to political consulting group Cambridge Analytica, which did election work all over the globe, including for Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016. A lot is at stake in the hearings for Facebook. If they go poorly and members of Congress sense a change in public opinion, the so-far scattered calls for more privacy regulations could grow into a chorus.
Once Facebook discovered the data had been improperly transferred following a 2015 report from the Guardian, the social media giant forced Cambridge Analytica to certify that it would delete the data. But The New York Times and The Observer of London reported last month that the company still had copies of the raw data. Facebook preemptively banned Cambridge Analytica from its platform the day before the story came online.
The normally media-shy 33-year-old Zuckerberg has been doing a flurry of interviews on cable television, newspapers, and even a podcast to try to explain what happened and what the company is doing to fix it. The company has avoided putting Zuckerberg before Congress in past controversies. Most recently, Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch testified to multiple committees investigating how Kremlin-linked Russians purchased political ads during the 2016 election.
Zuckerberg has said the incident was a “major breach of trust” with the company’s users. He also announced (through a Facebook post, naturally) that the company would begin performing audits of third-party app developers and take steps to make it easier for users to know which apps Facebook has granted access to.
But those steps may be too little too late. The company has weathered previous complaints and scandals about its lax privacy safeguards, but this comes as Facebook is fighting multiple battles, including the spread of fake news and Russian meddling on its platform during the 2016 election.
Cover image: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the commencement address at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)