Rep. Eliot Engel

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Rep. Engel: 'You'd Have To Be A Fool' To Believe Facebook Didn't Know About Extent Of Data Sharing

April 09, 2018 - 2:01 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg will be testifying on Capitol Hill this week about the company's ongoing data-privacy scandal and how it failed to guard against other abuses of its service.

Zuckerberg’s testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday follows revelations that 87 million Facebook users’ data might have been shared with Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company working for the Trump campaign, improperly obtained and kept user data during the 2016 election.

U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and will be hearing directly from Zuckerberg. WCBS 880’s Steve Scott asked Monday what he wanted to ask Zuckerberg and what he wanted to know about Facebook and its data sharing.

“First of all, I’d like to know why Facebook didn’t take security measures to prevent misuse of its data; I mean, that’s the first thing. You know, Mr. Zuckerberg is a smart guy, and the Facebook people are smart guys, and they had to know that this breach of privacy was happening for many, many months and even years, and why did they do nothing about it until it was exposed?” Engel said.

Engel said he believes people have the right to privacy when they go online.

“This absolutely smashes that, and you know, we have to look at a bunch of things,” he said. “From a national security point, we have to look at see whether it influenced the presidential election of 2016. That’s really very important. And security – it’s national security. It’s not only personal security, but it’s national security. I want to know how this happened, why it happened, and what they’re going to do in the future to prevent it from happening again.”

Engel said he believed Facebook knew about the extent of the information sharing and ignored it, and said “you’d have to be a fool” to believe otherwise.

“Facebook even now admits that most people on Facebook had their data scraped, so that’s just ridiculous. It’s selfish. It’s greedy. It’s just nothing that should be allowed to continue. You know, making user data accessible to third parties, particularly in exchange for allowing websites all over the world to access Facebook logins, it essentially allowed Facebook to consolidate power across the internet,” he said. “I mean, it did. And for them to claim they knew nothing about it is just unbelievable. It’s not believable.”

As to whether Facebook did anything criminal, Engel said, “We don’t know.” But he suggested that Facebook was complicit in the actions of Cambridge Analytica.

“But I do think that when people go online, they have a reasonable right to expect privacy, and this wasn’t only a matter of breaking into what someone was doing. If you had a friend who was doing something and you were somehow tied in with that friend, suddenly it’s like a pyramid scheme almost. It just affected everybody,” he said. “And for them not to have known, I find it very hard to believe.”

Engel also said it wasn’t certain whether the data mining on Facebook affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, but he noted that there were many false news stories that circulated on Facebook – from a fabricated report that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump to the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory – which alleged that Clinton was connected to a purported child sex ring operating in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria.

“Who knows? It certainly made our elections – regardless of who won – made our elections suspect, and I think it’s certainly something that we have to guard in the future. And I would not be surprised if there were tie-ins with starting to see some of that now between Russians and Facebook, and you know again… I find it very difficult – in fact, impossible to believe that Facebook had no knowledge of what was going on, and it probably did affect our election,” Engel said.

Engel said he wanted to ensure fair and free elections that are not influenced by fabrications and false information on social media.

“(I)f someone punches in something that they’re interested in, suddenly they got bombarded by others that are similar, and you know, that just kind of influences a lot of people,” he said. “So this is very dangerous, and I think he’s going to get grilled, and he should be, in terms of privacy and national security. That’s what I intend to do.”

Engel said there was a “bit of a consensus” in an otherwise divided Congress when it comes to suspicion of big social media companies and how they handle privacy issues.

“I think that there is a golden opportunity for Congress to use these hearings… to figure out legislation in the future to prevent these kinds of things from ever happening again,” he said. “I mean, we can’t change what happened. We can prosecute and do things if we find something that was malfeasance. But we need to do something to make sure this never, ever happens again.”