Facebook taps Republican to lead U.S. policy team amid scrutiny

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Kevin Martin, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission speaks at an an FCC open meeting as Michael Copps, commissioner of the FCC, listens at left in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Aug. 1, 2008.
Kevin Martin, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission speaks at an an FCC open meeting as Michael Copps, commissioner of the FCC, listens at left in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Aug. 1, 2008. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg News

Facebook has named a new head of U.S. public policy as the company deals with ongoing fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and increasing pressure over privacy around the world.

Kevin Martin, a Republican former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who has worked for the social media platform since 2015, will take on the role on an interim basis, the company said.

The move comes in the wake of revelations that Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy with ties to President Donald Trump's campaign, obtained the personal data of as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission. Earlier in April, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress for two days over the episode, and the company is facing privacy probes by the U.S. and international authorities.

The prior policy chief, Erin Egan, will focus on her role as the company's top privacy officer, managing Facebook's audits of apps with access to large amount of user data and the notification of those whose information was misused. Facebook is also facing European privacy regulations that take effect in May.

Egan's shift was her decision, said Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, who confirmed the moves, which were reported earlier by the New York Times.

No decision has been made about who will take over the U.S. policy job permanently, and Egan could return to the role, Stone said.

Drew Criticism

Martin, who was Facebook's vice president of mobile and global access policy, left the FCC in 2009 at the start of the Obama administration. His tenure was marked by efforts to limit broadcast indecency and expand access to broadband. He drew criticism from congressional Democrats, who said in a report he abused his authority and created a climate of fear at the agency.

In a 2009 interview with Bloomberg TV, Martin said "ushering in a wireless broadband era" was his top accomplishment as a regulator. In an early skirmish in the prolonged battle over net neutrality, Martin as FCC chairman joined with Democratic members to censure Comcast Corp. for improperly interfering with customers' web traffic. The agency's other Republicans voted against punishing Philadelphia-based Comcast, the largest cable provider. Comcast prevailed in court, sending the policy battle on to successive FCC leaders including current Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican who gutted his Democratic predecessor's rule against internet service providers blocking or throttling web traffic.

New Rules

Martin arrived at the FCC in 2001 as an appointee of President George W. Bush, for whom he served as a campaign lawyer. A former deputy chief of staff to Bush, Joel Kaplan, is Facebook's head global public policy.

In addition to the reorganization at Facebook, the company on Tuesday released a 27-page document revealing for the first time its rules for taking down content that has been reported to the company's moderators.

"We get millions of reports every week of potential violations," Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of global policy management, said during a discussion at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, in Washington on Tuesday. "You want to do it consistently and make sure you've got the right policy enforcement whether the person's in India or Texas."

Bickert said consistency requires "well defined lines" but conceded the rules sometimes err and need to be changed.

Lawmakers continue to be concerned about how content is managed by social media platforms and the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Thursday "to examine social media filtering and policing practices." The panel will hear from two conservative commentators who said their Facebook content had been deemed "unsafe." Facebook's Zuckerberg said the company had acted in error during his testimony in Washington earlier this month.

While the committee has invited Facebook to testify at Thursday's hearing, the company isn't planning to send anyone, Stone said.

--Bloomberg News

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