Rep. Costello Hopes House Facebook Hearings Will Dig Deeper
NOEL KING, HOST:
Yesterday, U.S. senators had a chance to question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on his company's approach to handling user data. At one point, Senator Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg outright how much of his private information he'd be willing to share.
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DICK DURBIN: Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?
MARK ZUCKERBERG: No.
DURBIN: If you've messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you've messaged?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.
KING: Zuckerberg faced hours of questioning in front of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees. And he is back at it again today. This time, he'll be in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Representative Ryan Costello sits on that committee. He's with me now. Good morning, Congressman.
RYAN COSTELLO: Good morning.
KING: So were you satisfied with what you heard from Mark Zuckerberg yesterday?
COSTELLO: Well, I think it was day one of two days' worth of hearings. I hope that today's hearings actually will dig a little bit deeper into some of the policy considerations that may be undertaken by Congress as well as just following up on some of the questions that the senators asked yesterday. So, no, I wasn't satisfied, but it was still a worthwhile hearing I think substantively.
KING: Regarding questions from the Senate - your colleagues in the Senate got some criticism for not having the technological literacy to ask Zuckerberg really tough questions. I was watching the hearing on Twitter. I saw people say, you know, it's like trying to help your grandparents figure out the Internet. Maybe not very kind but I wonder, do you think this was a missed opportunity to get some substantial information?
COSTELLO: I would suggest that today's hearing there'll be members that will be able to demonstrate more technological literacy, as you use the term. But at the same point in time, it was still a worthwhile hearing because it does get Mr. Zuckerberg before one of two congressional panels. And we can build upon some of the answers or nonanswers that were provided yesterday.
KING: What do you plan to ask today that you think your colleagues missed?
COSTELLO: Well, Mr. Zuckerberg mentioned that Facebook wants to take a more active view in policing the Internet ecosystem. I’d like to know what that means. I’d also like to know what his observations are on how Facebook will comply with the forthcoming European Union data privacy regulation framework that’s going to be implemented next month and how our country may adopt or come to fashion its own regulatory framework based on that. That’s one big issue.
I think the other big issue is everyone doesn’t like their data being used for things that they don’t know, yet there are times when that data is used for very good things. And how we go about acknowledging that sometimes our data is out there, used for things that we may not be aware of yet it’s still used in a socially beneficial way. I mean, that’s the tension here.
KING: Talk about that. What are the good things? What are the good ways in which our data is used and we may not be aware of?
COSTELLO: Well, for one, when you post on Facebook that you're not feeling well or you may have the flu, oftentimes that's a signal to the CDC that the flu virus is evolving in ways or in geographic areas that we may not be aware of. The issue of artificial intelligence and being able to understand how people are feeling or what is being said and to be able to self-police or self-regulate ourselves is another broad area.
I think even just the way we go about advertising, and one senator asked the question yesterday, I don't necessarily want to say that I like chocolate and then have a bunch of chocolate ads 30 seconds later, but at the same point in time, it is an advertising company, right? I mean, that's what it is. And we may not like how that works, yet we probably find more utility in it than we're willing to acknowledge.
KING: One of the big questions that's come up is the question of whether or not Facebook can be trusted to regulate itself. Given its history, what do you think about that?
COSTELLO: No company standing alone can just regulate itself. Yet, in many respects, we're talking about Facebook user policies that in large form do provide explanation for what that data is and isn't used for. And you can sign off from allowing certain data to be used. So it does in many ways police itself - companies do, right? But the problem is we don't know when they're not policing themselves. That's the problem with tech companies. Listen, if a company out there is emitting more pollutants than they're allowed to, the EPA and others have the ability to know that much quicker and to be able to test it in a much more transparent way than the way technology companies go about policing themselves. And that's the real tension here in American policy, and that's what we have to sort of figure out how to get an answer to.
KING: We've heard from listeners about their concerns with Facebook. We heard from a woman, Tanza Thomas (ph), from Columbus, Ga. She was one of the millions who got that note saying I think, you know, Cambridge Analytica - the company thinks they have your data.
TANZA THOMAS: I just was really, you know, just baffled and ticked off at Facebook because we use it on a daily basis. And there is probably someone in another state or country using this information at will.
KING: I imagine some of your constituents feel the same way. Very briefly, what's your response to them?
COSTELLO: That the Department of Justice and the Federal Elections Commission have one investigation they're looking into. And the Federal Trade Commission is undergoing a non-public investigation on the misuse of that data. Moving forward, Congress will continue to play a role. But there are other administrative agencies that also have investigations that are looking into this and that will continue.
KING: Representative Ryan Costello, thank you for joining us.
COSTELLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.