DATA SCANDAL: Facebook Shifts Blame

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FACEBOOK on Wednesday said the personal information of up to 87 million people, most of them Americans, may have been improperly shared during the 2016 election with Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm connected to President Trump.

The new figure sharply increased the company’s previous estimate of how many users’ information was harvested by Cambridge Analytica. For weeks, Facebook had said that the data of about 50 million users was at issue.

Facebook released the revised estimate of affected users as part of an extended statement about its plans for handling personal data. The company said it would start alerting users on April 9 about whether their information may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica.

The sharing of the user data has unleashed a torrent of criticism against Facebook, the world’s largest social network. Earlier on Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington had said Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, would testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11 about the company’s handling of sensitive user data.

He is also expected to appear before at least one Senate committee next week.

“This hearing will be an important opportunity to shed light on critical consumer data privacy issues,” said Representatives Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, and Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey, of the House committee. “We appreciate Mr. Zuckerberg’s willingness to testify before the committee.”

The hearing is sure to be a spectacle, drawing intense public interest because of Mr. Zuckerberg’s notoriety and because of the numerous issues facing the company. Few executives draw the same interest as Mr. Zuckerberg, the 33-year-old billionaire founder of Facebook, who has connected 2 billion people to the platform he created as a college student.

Facebook has faced a high level of scrutiny over its handling of user data and is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission on suspicion of violating an agreement in 2011 to protect its users’ privacy. The company’s stock is down sharply since The New York Times and The Observer of London reported on how Cambridge Analytica improperly acquired users’ data.

The company’s problems stretch back before the revelations about Cambridge Analytica, with investigations into how Russian actors infiltrated Facebook’s platform by placing ads and posts to disrupt the 2016 American presidential election. At the time, Mr. Zuckerberg dismissed the idea of foreign interference on his platform as a “crazy idea.”

Since then, the company has been brought into investigations by law enforcement and Congressional committees on Russian interference, and the company has acknowledged that its platform was used by agents to influence voters.

CREDIT: The New York Times

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