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technology

Grassley Considers Hearing With Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs

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The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is considering holding a hearing with the chiefs of Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. after reports that a company that worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign harvested data on millions of Facebook users without their consent.

Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has “taken under advisement” a request from Democrats for a hearing with the technology companies, spokesman George Hartmann said in an email Monday.

"The chairman is currently gathering information and taking steps to inform any action by the committee,” Hartmann said. “At this point, no decision has been made on whether to hold such a hearing or whether it would occur at the full committee or subcommittee level."

Chuck Grassley
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have been calling on Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to appear before lawmakers to explain how U.K.-based Cambridge Analytica, the data-analysis firm that helped Trump win the presidency, was able to harvest the personal information. Facebook Inc. shares posted their steepest drop since 2015.

Facebook said Friday that a professor used Facebook’s login tools to get people to sign up for what he claimed was a personality-analysis app he had designed for academic purposes. To take the quiz, 270,000 people gave the app permission to access data via Facebook on themselves and their friends, exposing a network of 50 million people, according to the New York Times. That kind of access was allowed under Facebook’s rules at the time. Afterward, the professor violated Facebook’s terms when he passed along that data to Cambridge Analytica.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican John Kennedy of Louisiana wrote to Grassley earlier Monday asking him to bring in the three CEOs for a public hearing.

“The lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of American elections as well as privacy rights,” the senators wrote. They said they hope the hearing would show “what is being done to protect Americans’ data and limit abuse of the platforms, as well as to assess what measures should be taken before the next elections.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, also called for a hearing with the tech company CEOs last week, and other senators in both parties said there should be another public hearing with the social media companies ahead of this year’s congressional elections.

Separately, three senators, John Thune, Roger Wicker and Jerry Moran, who lead committees or subcommittees that deal with commerce, technology and consumer protection, wrote a letter to Zuckerberg "requesting information and a briefing." They also asked for information from Nigel Oakes, the chief executive of Strategic Communications Laboratories Group Ltd., an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica.

— With assistance by Sarah Frier

(Updates with latters from three senators, in last paragraph.)
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