Sen. Klobuchar Wants Latest Facebook Controversy Investigated
NOEL KING, HOST:
Facebook is in the middle of yet another controversy that centers on its role in the 2016 election. Over the weekend, news broke that a company linked to Steve Bannon worked with Facebook user data on behalf of the Trump campaign. This company called Cambridge Analytica is accused of deceptively gaining access to user profiles and then trying to use that information to sway their votes. Christopher Wylie is the data expert who oversaw the data harvesting program, and he spoke to Britain's Guardian newspaper.
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CHRISTOPHER WYLIE: We spent a million dollars harvesting tens of millions of Facebook profiles, and those profiles were used as the basis of the algorithms that became the foundation of Cambridge Analytica itself. The company itself was founded on using Facebook data.
KING: All right. This is a very complicated story. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar is calling for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before Congress. She wants him to explain how this was allowed to happen. Senator Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and she's with us now. Senator, thank you for coming in.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you very much, Noel.
KING: All right. Let's say Mark Zuckerberg does come in and he does testify in front of your committee. What do you hope to learn?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, we want to know how this happened. What's the extent of the damage? Reports from The New York Times - 50 million of these Facebook profiles were basically stolen, hijacked, including information of people's residence. And then how did it happen? Why did it happen? And how are they going to fix this?
KING: Do you think that there is a way to prevent this kind of misuse of social media data from happening in the future? I mean, we do live in very - it's a complicated story, we live in complicated times. How do we prevent this?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, these are brilliant companies with some of the most brilliant people in America working for them. And we're proud of these companies, but they clearly have taken the world as the Wild West, that they can do anything that they want. Well, guess what. They're media companies. They are making billions of dollars. The platform itself is worth somewhere around $500 billion. And the fact that they believe that there shouldn't be rules of the road - in this case, the Honest Ads Act that I've introduced with Senator McCain and Senator Warner where we're simply asking them to follow the rules that print, media and TV use for political ads. They won't do that. And it's no surprise that this might have happened because, as someone once said, they have built a product that doesn't have alarms, that doesn't have locks on the doors. And, big surprise, the burglars have gotten in.
So I think they could change their system so that you can better police so you don't have these bots running rampant, that you don't have fake news being posted all the time, so you don't have people that are trying to do wrong and make mischief have access to people's data. They signed a decree, a consent decree, Facebook did, in 2011 with the FTC. And now we're going to find out if there's meat on the bones because supposedly it's $40,000 per violation. So if done right, this could be billions of dollars of damages.
KING: All right. Let's talk about this particular case. Even if the worst of the allegations is true in the case of Cambridge Analytica - scraping people's data, using it without their knowledge - has any existing U.S. law been broken?
KLOBUCHAR: We don't know yet, and that's why we want to have them before us and before the committee. And Senator Kennedy, Republican from Louisiana, just on Thursday, he and I both publicly said at a hearing before we knew any of this that the CEOs of these social media companies had to come before us. They have not come before us. They've given it to their lobbyists and their lawyers. And we think that they need to take responsibility for what's going on. It is only by either an enforcement of that consent decree that I mentioned that the FTC came together with Facebook and agreed to in 2011 because of privacy violations or because Congress launches an investigation that we're really going to get to the bottom of what happened. They just can't say trust us anymore.
KING: Well, you're calling for Mark Zuckerberg to testify. What do you think the odds are that he will?
KLOBUCHAR: I don't know. I think the odds get greater when more of my colleagues join me. And, you know, Senator Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, already did that. I think you're going to see a lot of people today and tomorrow agree. They're doing it in Great Britain. We have had CEOs of major companies - I remember Richard Anderson, who was the CEO of Delta Airlines, the biggest airline in the world, he came before the Judiciary Committee. I can name you a number of major CEOs. So I don't know why this CEO, even though he's super famous and has made a lot of money, why he also doesn't have to come before the committee.
KING: Well, in order...
KLOBUCHAR: Senator Grassley can make him come before the committee.
KING: Let me jump in there. In order to access Facebook, users have to consent in pretty broad terms to put their personal information in Facebook's hands. And I wonder, if we continue to opt in - I certainly am on Facebook - is it really Congress' place to try and regulate this?
KLOBUCHAR: I don't think that anyone when they've gotten on Facebook thinks that this company is giving away their data to be used by basically, it appears, a political campaign, given to this Cambridge Analytica that was started by Steve Bannon. It is - you know, Facebook says, well, this isn't technically a breach. Well, yeah, if you break into my apartment, you can do it with a crowbar or you can do it because the manager gives you a key. The manager gave them a key.
KING: Senator Amy Klobuchar is a Democrat representing Minnesota. She joined us in studio. Thank you so much, Senator.
KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Noel. It was great to be on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.