What to expect from Mark Zuckerberg's trip to Washington

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Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, exits after a meeting with Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, not pictured, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, April 9, 2018. Zuckerberg, in prepared testimony for the U.S. House of Represent
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, exits after a meeting with Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, not pictured, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, April 9, 2018. Zuckerberg, in prepared testimony for the U.S. House of Represent Credit: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg

Mark Zuckerberg is about to face two days of congressional hearings about Facebook's lax data practices that led to the potential abuse of personal information by Cambridge Analytica. The 33-year-old CEO will sit down with a Senate panel on Tuesday and then testify before the House on Wednesday, and the stakes are the highest they have ever been for him and his company.

Lawmakers will question the tech mogul about how his company has treated the personal information of its more than 2 billion users, how it allowed third-parties like Cambridge Analytica to play with that data, and why it hadn't done more to prevent wholesale digital looting.

On Monday, Zuckerberg was already on Capitol Hill visiting the office of one of his inquisitors, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, and Facebook released the CEO's prepared remarks that would accompany his testimony. Here is what to expect from Zuckerberg's week in Washington:

Senators get first dibs

The first stop is the Senate's Judiciary and Commerce, Science and Transportation committees, which are both led by Republicans Chuck Grassley and David Thune, respectively. The joint committee hearing also will feature longtime Facebook critics like Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who has a history of pressing the social network on privacy issues.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a member of the Judiciary committee, has had a close relationship with Zuckerberg, ever since the CEO donated $100 million to Newark schools in 2010, when Booker was mayor of the city. Booker has also been somewhat of a Silicon Valley favorite and potential presidential candidate, and it will be interesting to see what role he plays in the hearings, if any.

Also, Senator Ted Cruz is a member of the same committee, and it was his campaign that first hired Cambridge Analytica for the 2016 presidential race, before it eventually went on to work for the Donald Trump campaign.

Regulations and penalties

Senators "will be asking Mr. Zuckerberg for more information about how these invasions of privacy happened, what concrete changes Facebook is making, and what recourse there will be for victims of these privacy invasions," says a person close to one senator's office, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In 2011, Facebook settled with Federal Trade Commissions over privacy practices, and was put on the hook for $16,000 for each violation going forward. Senators will "focus on privacy, and specifically the consent decree between Facebook and the FTC," this person says.

Zuckerberg better have a satisfactory answer for why the way user data was exploited doesn't represent a breach of the consent decree.

"We don't want more apologies, we want information and accountability—and not just in connection with Cambridge Analytica," says Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Congress should be asking Facebook for a detailed account of what data it has shared with third parties, what it has done to protect misuse of that data, what it told users about how it would handle their information, and what steps it will take in the future to respect users' privacy rights."

What and when

There is no way Zuckerberg should expect to get away from Washington without answering "What did you know and when did you know it?" That's the question that gets to the heart of almost every D.C. scandal, and there are still big questions about the timeline of Facebook's dealings with Cambridge Analytica and why it did not punish its misdeeds sooner.

In 2015, The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica potentially accessed data on Facebook users it should not have had. Facebook then tried to ensure that the data broker deleted the information on its users. Still, the social network continued to work with Cambridge Analytica even after discovering it was involved in a scheme to harvest data on Facebook users.

Honesty is the best policy

No seriously: The Honest Ads Act is Facebook's best friend. Zuckerberg will look to impress lawmakers with the company's stance on implementing the new election ads law, which would require transparency of digital ads. Facebook has endorsed the act, while rivals Twitter and Google have yet to join the call.

"This lack of transparency has dangerous implications for our democracy," said Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar in a joint letter to Twitter and Google on Monday. "As we saw in the 2016 presidential election, foreign actors can seek to influence the electorate without voters' knowledge through online political advertising."

Russia, Russia, Russia

This week will also be the first time lawmakers get to address Zuckerberg directly about the Russian interference on social media during the election. It has been more than a year since the election and since Zuckerberg initially brushed aside concerns of meddling, but now it has become clear that Russians created thousands of fake accounts and spread disinformation on Facebook and elsewhere.

In a preview of his prepared testimony, Zuckerberg went further than he had in previous public pronouncements pointing a finger at high-tech Russian operations on the platform.

"What we found was that bad actors had used coordinated networks of fake accounts to interfere in the election: promoting or attacking specific candidates and causes, creating distrust in political institutions, or simply spreading confusion," Zuckerberg says in his remarks. "Some of these bad actors also used our ads tools."

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