Facebook CEO eases tensions but lawmakers press on privacy rules

Facebook CEO eases tensions but lawmakers press on privacy rules

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg'sWashington charm offensive appeared to ease tensions between the social mediagiant and US lawmakers critical of its business practices.

Most lawmakers described their meetings with the CEO asproductive even as they called for new regulations on tech companies that theysaid would improve users' experiences and industry competition.

"It was a positive and robust discussion on privacy,"Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, said Friday after hismeeting. "They committed to working with the Congress on a strong,nationwide privacy law."

In addition to Walden, Zuckerberg also met on Friday withHouse Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican onthe Judiciary Committee. He sat down with House Intelligence Chairman AdamSchiff, a California Democrat, and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, aDemocrat whose committee is investigating the technology industry.

On Thursday, Zuckerberg met with President Donald Trump atthe White House, according to a Facebook spokesman. Trump's son-in-law andsenior adviser, Jared Kushner, was there along with Dan Scavino, the president'ssocial media director, Bloomberg reported. Trump later tweeted that it was a "nicemeeting."

Zuckerberg spent the past three days defending Facebook'spractices to some of his harshest critics, who say the company isn't takingstrong enough action to prevent voter manipulation on the platform ahead of the2020 presidential election. They also criticise the company's handling of userdata and treatment of conservative voices on its platform.

On Friday, Facebook announced it had suspended "tens ofthousands" of third-party apps that were using the company's developertools as part of a review the company started following the Cambridge Analyticaprivacy scandal last year. In response to the growing scrutiny of its platform,Zuckerberg has called for adoption of baseline regulations governing privacyand harmful content online.

The prospects that a federal privacy law will pass beforethe end of 2020 remain low, even though Republicans and Democrats alike saythey are negotiating terms of potential legislation.

Antitrust panel

Zuckerberg on Friday met with Nadler of New York as theJudiciary antitrust subcommittee is investigating competition issues in thetechnology industry. Last week, the panel sent a letter to Facebook seekinginformation about its acquisitions as well as communications from Zuckerbergand other executives.

Democratic Representative David Cicilline, chairman of thepanel's antitrust subcommittee, said he had a "productive meeting"with Zuckerberg.

"It was an opportunity to reaffirm the bipartisannature of the investigation – the fact that the chairman and I and ourRepublican colleagues are very united in this effort," Cicilline said. "Mr.Zuckerberg made a commitment to cooperate with the investigation."

'A wall'

A day earlier, Zuckerberg had a testier exchange withRepublican Senator Josh Hawley over his company's record on privacy andsafeguarding user data. Hawley said he told Zuckerberg that Facebook should besubject to independent audits of its content reviews and that there should be "awall" between Facebook and its other platforms, and Zuckerberg said no.

"I said to him, 'Prove that you are serious about data,sell WhatsApp, and sell Instagram.' That's what they should do," Hawleytold reporters after a Thursday meeting. "I think it's safe to say he wasnot receptive to those suggestions."

Zuckerberg's visit to the capital also included a dinner onWednesday with Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on theIntelligence Committee, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat,along with other lawmakers.

The executive didn't appear to be meeting with governmentofficials conducting other inquiries. The Federal Trade Commission has openedan antitrust probe of the company, and New York is leading a coalition ofstates in a wide-ranging investigation of the social media giant. In July,Facebook agreed to pay $5bn to settle FTC allegations it violated users'privacy.