WASHINGTON — Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said Wednesday he was willing to testify to Congress following revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked on President Donald Trump’s election campaign, improperly obtained information on some 50 million Facebook users via an academic researcher.
“What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge about what Congress is trying to learn. So if that’s me, then I am happy to go,” Zuckerberg said in an evening interview on CNN. “What I think we found so far is that typically there are people whose whole job is focused on an area. But I would imagine at some point that there will be a topic where I am the sole authority on, and it will make sense for me to do it.”
Lawmakers have called on Zuckerberg and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, to testify on how data on more than 50 million users ended up in the hands of Cambridge during the 2016 campaign.
Zuckerberg also said on CNN that he would “love to see” regulations on advertising transparency that affect his company.
“If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV, in print, you know, it’s just not clear why there should be less on the internet,” he said. “You should have the same level of transparency required.”
Zuckerberg added that Facebook had already rolled out some ad transparency tools that will allow users to “know who is buying the ads they see on Facebook” and to “be able to go to any page and see all the ads people are running to different audiences.”
Zuckerberg earlier on Wednesday addressed for the first time the Cambridge Analytica controversy that the company has been embroiled in since the weekend, calling it “a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it.”
“We need to fix that,” he said in a Facebook post.
Facebook has faced a growing firestorm over the revelations about Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company knew since 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had compiled the data. The situation did not come to light until five days ago, when the New York Times and the Guardian reported the details and raised questions about whether Cambridge still possessed some of the information.
The CEO also outlined a series of steps the social network will take to shore up the security of its platform, including telling users when their data has been misused and preventing applications from accessing data from people who haven’t used the app in the past three months. Facebook said it will also conduct a “full audit of any app with suspicious activity.”
According to sources inside the company, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the situation, employees have been clamoring for Zuckerberg and Sandberg to personally address the Cambridge Analytica situation.
Sandberg posted her own statement minutes after Zuckerberg’s went up. Echoing the CEO, she wrote, “As he said, we know that this was a major violation of peoples’ trust, and I deeply regret that we didn’t do enough to deal with it.”
One Facebook source said the atmosphere inside the company has been tense since Trump’s election and the resulting criticism that the company facilitated his victory by allowing so-called fake news and Russian disinformation to spread unchecked.
“I haven’t seen a wave of mass resignations, saying, ’I can’t work for a company that does X, Y, and Z,’“ the source said about the Cambridge Analytica controversy, but added, “Coming off the Russia stuff, it’s not exactly helpful for employee morale.”
Lawmakers, including many Democrats, have been pushing for Zuckerberg to testify in Congress about both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s role in the 2016 election.
“I’m glad Facebook is going to notify users whose data was inappropriately shared with Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign. That’s a basic first step under the circumstances,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking member of the intelligence committee. “But I still want to know why it took Facebook so long to do anything about this, particularly when there are indications that this user data was exploited by Cambridge Analytica for years.”
“Mr. Zuckerberg needs to testify before the Senate and answer some tough questions about Russian activity on the platform, and the way his company protects — or doesn’t — its users’ data,” Warner added.
Adding to the pressure on Facebook, the Federal Trade Commission has launched an inquiry into the company’s data practices following the Cambridge Analytica reports, according to a source familiar with the matter. Under a 2011 consent decree with the FTC, Facebook agreed to get express permission and notify users before sharing their data with third parties.
Meanwhile in the U.K., Damian Collins, a member of the British parliament who has been leading an inquiry into “fake news” on social media platforms, sounded a note of skepticism about the completeness of the company’s response so far.
“Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t addressed why Facebook didn’t deal with concerns about the exposure of Facebook user data at the time & the risks now,” he tweeted.
The issue is also a “high political priority” for the European Union, European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said Wednesday during a public appearance in Washington.
“This case is not about protection of personal data,” said Jourova, adding that it “is a wake-up call for all of us. Data protection is not an aim in itself. It is important to protect our democracy.”
John Hendel and Blake Paterson contributed to this report.