Jeff Flake had barely finished speaking before Sen. Chuck Grassley cut him off, adjourning the committee. “Because of the two-hour rule, we’re adjourned,” Grassley said. There was a moment of silence, before Sen. Feinstein asked incredulously, “What?”
Flake seemed to be surprised, too.
Sen. Dianne Feinstin then turned to Grassley to argue there was no vote, to which Grassley replied, “We had to get this all done by 2:00.”
“Well, is it done? Is Flake’s argument going to happen or did you cut off a vote?” Feinstein asked.
“We didn’t have a motion,” Grassley said. “This is all a gentlemen and women’s agreement.”
Feinstein repeated “a gentleman and women’s agreement…” then cut off a colleague who interrupted. “Let him say what he’s committed to,” she said, as the microphones cut off.
In an exclusive on-camera interview with CNN, Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher tells Donie O’Sullivan how the tech giant is trying to solve its troll problem and avoid a repeat of 2016.
Facebook is facing an existential crisis.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal has done immense damage to the brand, sources across the company believe. It will now take a Herculean effort to restore public trust in Facebook’s commitment to privacy and data protection, they said. Outside observers think regulation has suddenly become more likely, and yet CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears missing in action.
The scandal also highlights a problem that is built into the company’s DNA: Its business is data exploitation. Facebook makes money by, among other things, harvesting your data and selling it to app developers and advertisers. Preventing those buyers from passing that data to third parties with ulterior motives may ultimately be impossible.
Indeed, the most alarming aspect of Cambridge Analytica’s “breach” is that it wasn’t a breach at all. It happened almost entirely above board and in line with Facebook policy.
Aleksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge professor, accessed the data of more than 50 million Facebook users simply by creating a survey filled out by 270,000 people. Facebook provided Kogan with the data of anyone who took the survey, as well as their friends’ data. In a statement, Facebook said, “Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time.”
The one rule Kogan violated, according to Facebook, was passing the user data to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica, the political data firm founded by former Trump aide Steve Bannon and conservative donor Robert Mercer.
But even Facebook sources acknowledged to CNN that it is impossible to completely monitor what developers and advertisers do with the data once it’s in their hands. It’s like selling cigarettes to someone and telling them not to share the cigarettes with their friends.
The limits of Facebook’s ability to enforce compliance with data usage was highlighted by Facebook’s own response to Kogan’s violation. Facebook says it learned of Kogan’s violation in 2015 and was subsequently assured by all parties that the data had been destroyed. But Facebook also says it learned just days ago that “not all data was deleted.”
In a statement, Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal said “protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do.” That may be a hard argument for the public to accept given that Facebook’s business is providing people’s information to outside parties whose ultimate goals are unknowable.
Facebook says that starting in 2014 it gave users greater control over what parts of their information are shared with app developers and advertisers. It also says it has enhanced its app review process to require developers “to justify the data they’re looking to collect and how they’re going to use it — before they’re allowed to even ask people for it.”
Still, the sources inside Facebook acknowledge that such measures cannot guarantee that some people won’t succeed in mining Facebook data and passing it off to third parties.
On Capitol Hill, the talk of regulation is growing louder. Lawmakers seeking tighter restrictions on big tech feel even more emboldened than they did in the wake of revelations about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a source on Capitol Hill told CNN.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar has called on Zuckerberg to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which she serves, to explain “what Facebook knew about misusing data from 50 million Americans in order to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and the rest of the Facebook leadership seem conspicuously absent. Neither the Facebook CEO nor his top deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, have commented publicly on the matter. They have left that task to Grewal, a lawyer. No one has provided an adequate explanation for why Facebook did not disclose Kogan’s violation to the more than 50 million users who were affected when the company first learned about it in 2015.
“We are conducting a comprehensive internal and external review and are working to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists. That is where our focus lies as we remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Grewal said in a statement Sunday.
All of this comes as Facebook is already getting questions about the long-term appeal of its platform, at least in the United States. The number of daily active users in the United States — a whopping 184 million — declined for the first time last quarter. Facebook also lost 2.8 million users under the age of 25 last year, and is set to lose another 2 million this year, according to eMarketer.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is likely to hasten user disenchantment with the network, sources inside Facebook acknowledged. Facebook is increasingly being seen as a platform vulnerable to manipulation by political groups, foreign governments, or worse.
Ultimately, however, the real culprit in the eyes of the American public may not be Cambridge Analytica or the Russians, but rather Facebook itself.
Facebook’s ad targeting system is being used by some employers to unlawfully discriminate based on gender, a new complaint says, the latest in a string of allegations of discrimination being allowed in Facebook ads.
On Tuesday, the ACLU, law firm Outten & Golden, and labor union Communications Workers of America filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook and 10 other employers for allegedly using Facebook ads to discriminate against potential job seekers.
The complaint was filed on behalf of three female job seekers and a group of “thousands” of members represented by the labor union. The named complainants are also seeking to represent a broader proposed class of what the ACLU says is “millions” of Facebook users who may have been similarly impacted.
It alleges that job ads on Facebook were targeted exclusively to male users, and that most of these listings were for positions in male-dominated fields. As a result, all women and non-binary users were excluded from receiving the ads, according to the complaint.
“The employers for those jobs are probably thinking they need to fill them with people who look like the people who currently hold those jobs. The problem is, that is unlawful,” Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, told CNNMoney.
The complaint alleges that Facebook ( allows advertisers to target job ads based on age and gender. This is against federal and local laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Additionally, the government can forbid job advertising that discriminates based on sex, according to a Supreme Court ruling in 1973, the complaint said. )
“I shouldn’t be shut out of the chance to hear about a job opportunity just because I am a woman,” said Bobbi Spees, one of the three complainants in the case, according to a press release.
“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies, and over the past year, we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a statement to CNNMoney. “We are reviewing the complaint and look forward to defending our practices.” Facebook also said it would soon require all advertisers to consent to complying with its anti-discrimination policies and the law.
Juan Mundel, an assistant professor of advertising at DePaul University, noted that Facebook is “the biggest advertising agency in the world at the moment.”
“While Facebook will do its best to satisfy regulations and make small adjustments, they won’t actually make any decisions that will drastically affect their business model which allows it to hyper-segment consumers,” he added.
According to ACLU’s Sherwin, the fix is simple: She suggests Facebook stop making it an option for employers to select a gender for targeting job ads.
Mundel says, more broadly, Facebook could apply more oversight to determine if employers are appropriately and legally applying targeting for specific ad purposes.
Facebook isn’t the only company allowing advertisers to target ads, according to Mike Yao, a technology and advertising expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Facebook is an easy target, but I think the problem goes way beyond Facebook,” he said.
In the past, the company has faced criticism about its advertising platform and whether its systems allow for discrimination.
Most recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Facebook of violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act in August. It filed a formal complaint against Facebook claiming the platform lets landlords and home sellers use targeted ads to discriminate against potential buyers or renters based on race, sex, religion, disability and other factors.
In response, Facebook said it eliminated 5,000 targeting options that could be potentially misused to discriminate.
Last December, a ProPublica and New York Times investigation found that dozens of major employers, including Verizon, ran recruitment ads only for certain age groups. At the time, Facebook said age-based targeting is “an accepted industry practice.”
The ACLU complaint also includes allegations that employers were able to target younger users on Facebook thereby discriminating by age.
In November, a separate ProPublica report found discriminatory advertisements were getting through Facebook’s systems. ProPublica was able to purchase dozens of home rental advertisements targeted toward audiences that specifically excluded “African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.”
Discriminatory housing-related advertisements are not allowed under the Fair Housing Act. The law prohibits the advertisement of homes for rent or sale and discriminating “based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.”
Update: Due to an error in an ACLU press release, this story originally misidentified the quoted complainant.”
Those in favor of advancing the nomination
After the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to move forward with a vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said to fellow senators that she views the stories of Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford differently.