Home sci-tech House intel chief says Facebook working on election threats

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House intel chief says Facebook working on election threats

by Ace Damon
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Marcy Gordon, Associated Press

Published Friday, September 20, 2019 15:29

Last updated Friday, September 20, 2019 17:33

WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence Committee chief said Friday that Facebook's CEO has ensured that the company is working on ways to prevent foreign actors from disrupting next year's elections.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California met with Mark Zuckerberg and said the Facebook CEO showed a deep awareness of the threat to the election of "deep fake" videos and other technically advanced tools.

Schiff told reporters that Facebook is "in the process of developing what I hope are very strong policies about it. … I think he (Zuckerberg) fully appreciates the seriousness of the situation."

It was the third day of Zuckerberg's private meetings in Washington, after other sessions with key legislators and President Donald Trump. Zuckerberg also met on Friday with the leader of a House antitrust investigation into major technology companies and promised to cooperate.

The House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee, led by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Is investigating market dominance on Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. Recently, lawmakers have asked companies for a wide and detailed range of documents related to their operations, including internal communications from key executives.

Cicilline and Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, met in a separate session with Zuckerberg. Cicilline told reporters after "Mr. Zuckerberg has pledged to cooperate with the investigation, and we look forward to your cooperation."

Such cooperation would cover "a whole range of things," Cicilline said, including providing the requested documents.

As he did in Thursday's Capitol Round, Zuckerberg left the meetings without answering reporters' shouted questions.

The conciliatory tone of lawmakers on Friday contrasts with yesterday's remarks by Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., A conservative who is the most critical technology critic in the Senate. Hawley said he challenged Zuckerberg at his meeting to sell his company's WhatsApp and Instagram properties to prove that Facebook takes data privacy protection seriously.

"The company talks a lot. I'd like to see some action," Hawley told reporters.

Congress is debating a privacy law that could drastically restrict the ability of companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to collect and make money from users' personal data. A national law, which would be the first of its kind in the US, could allow people to see or prohibit the use of their data.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins of the House Judiciary Committee said on Friday that Zuckerberg and lawmakers discussed data privacy at another meeting and that Facebook "is working hard to find solutions." Collins also assured Zuckerberg that in his bipartisan antitrust investigation, lawmakers were not taking "an opposing role."

Facebook, a social networking giant with nearly 2.5 billion users worldwide, is under close scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators following a series of privacy scandals and amid accusations of abuse of market power to crush the competition.

In addition to the House investigation, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are conducting antitrust investigations by major technology companies, and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general has opened a competition investigation specifically from Facebook.

Schiff said he also discussed with Zuckerberg the cooperation between the technology industry and US intelligence agencies to combat foreign interference in the 2020 elections. The government is not seeking confidential company information beyond that related to foreign powers' efforts to intervene. in the elections, he said.

Cooperation between industry and intelligence agencies has improved, "but more remains to be done," Schiff said.

US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has conducted a widespread campaign of political misinformation on US social media to influence the 2016 elections, with the particularly heavy use of Facebook.

Authorities are especially concerned about so-called "deep fake" videos, which are altered using artificial intelligence and face mapping to appear legitimate and pose a threat to national security and the 2020 elections. Some authorities have urged companies like Facebook and Twitter to take action against fake videos.

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