Zuckerberg summoned by Congress as lawmakers fume over data leak


Washington - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been called to appear before a House panel as fallout continues from revelations that data of millions of users was obtained by a political consulting firm linked to President Donald Trump.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee said in a statement on Thursday that Zuckerberg, who has said he’s willing to testify about the episode, "is the right witness to provide answers to the American people".

Facebook’s representatives left "many questions" unanswered during a staff-level briefing by company officials on Wednesday, panel chair Greg Walden and its top Democrat Frank Pallone said in the statement. Five other committees are receiving such briefings, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers also have called for Zuckerberg’s appearance.

Walden’s panel is sending a letter to Facebook requesting Zuckerberg’s presence. Pallone said in an interview that they weren’t at the point of issuing a subpoena, though "it’s always possible".

A call from a congressional committee chair represents an escalation of the demands on the company from Washington. Zuckerberg also faces calls to appear before a UK parliamentary panel and the possibility of requests to appear from other European nations.

READ: App developer says he is scapegoat in Facebook data row

Facebook fell for the third time in four days, dragging its loss this week to 11%. The stock dropped 2.4% to $165.25 at 13:13 in New York.

The panel set no date for Zuckerberg to appear, saying it wants to find a time "in the near future for a hearing", Walden and Pallone said in their statement.

A Facebook spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

For nearly two hours on Wednesday, the Facebook officials met privately with staffers from both sides of the political aisle, according to two people who attended the meeting. One main question was whether there might be others - including other "bad actors" - who might have had access to the same data that consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained from more than 50 million Facebook profiles.

Congressional staffers, speaking on the condition they not be identified, said the Facebook officials acknowledged that the company doesn’t know how widely disseminated that information might be, or how many copies were made.

In interviews, Zuckerberg said he was “open” to testifying before Congress if he’s the right person to provide the information lawmakers need, but stopped short of committing to appear himself.

READ: Breaking up with Facebook is harder than it looks

The testimony would not be “a media opportunity, or at least it’s not supposed to be", he told CNN.

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has also called on Zuckerberg to testify, said on Thursday there was "no question" that the CEO is the right person to appear because of his knowledge of the platform’s algorithms.

"We have a huge data spill which has occurred, and he is the CEO of Facebook and he has to come,” Markey told CNN.

The uproar over Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that consulted on Trump’s campaign, has sparked new questions about how Zuckerberg could allow his social network to be exploited again for political ends after Russia sought to use the platform to sway the 2016 US presidential campaigns.

Cambridge Analytica had siphoned data from some 50 million Facebook users as it built an election-consulting company that boasted it could sway voters in contests all over the world.

While 270 000 users had authorised an academic to use their data for research purposes, according to reports, the researcher allegedly violated privacy rules when he handed the data off to Cambridge Analytica.

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