Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen Set to Appear Before Senate Panel

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Former employee to testify before consumer protection panel to revise children’s online privacy law

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Richard Blumenthal (D, Conn.), chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee, said Monday, Ms. Hogen has “activated and encouraged the effort to protect children and hold Facebook accountable.” The hearing will be “a breakthrough day in the fight against Facebook’s devastating loss and eavesdropping,” he said.

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Facebook has disputed the characterization of the documents in the Journal and by Mr Blumenthal and other members of his committee, who last week questioned Facebook executive Antigone Davis about the documents.

“It is not true that leaked internal research suggests that Instagram is ‘toxic’ for teenage girls,” Facebook said in a statement. “The research actually demonstrated that for many teens we’ve found that using Instagram helps them when they’re struggling with difficult moments and issues that teens have always faced.”

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The Journal defended the series, saying that Facebook has not identified any factual errors.

Ms Haugen, who resigned from Facebook in April, was a product manager who was hired to help protect Facebook from election interference. She said she acted because she was disappointed in what she saw as a lack of openness about Facebook’s platform’s potential for harm and its reluctance to address its flaws.

Ms. Haugen has sought federal whistleblower protection at the Securities and Exchange Commission. She is also interested in collaborating with state attorneys general and European regulators.

Instagram’s disclosures have created momentum to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, 1998 legislation governing websites that collect data on children. Known as the COPA, the law has been widely criticized for being inadequate in the age of social media.

At last week’s hearing, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D, Wash.), who chaired the powerful Commerce Committee, said “updating the COPA will be necessary.”

Critics say the law in writing contains measures that create enforcement challenges for the Federal Trade Commission.

One requires that a platform operator has “actual knowledge” that it is collecting children’s personal information before the toughest restrictions of the law come into force. Second is its age cutoff – only children under the age of 13 get its strongest protection.

Republicans and Democrats alike have supported updating the law.

“I have three daughters and when I read the Wall Street Journal story I was shocked but in some ways not surprised,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R, Alaska) at last week’s hearing. “I personally believe that we’re going to look back 20 years from now and look at the huge social mental health challenges created by this era… we’re going to go, ‘What were we thinking? “

In addition to Instagram documents, Ms. Haugen released other internal documents that may come up for discussion at Tuesday’s hearing, including how the company’s moderation rules favor the elite; how its algorithms fuel discord; and how drug cartels and human traffickers openly use its services.

In addition, it is also possible that lawmakers—especially Democrats—can focus on what Facebook may have played in the January 6 riots at the US Capitol.

In a statement this week, Mr Blumenthal promised more hearings “documenting why Facebook and other tech companies need to be held accountable—and how we plan to do it… We need stronger oversight, kids.” For effective protection and devices for parents, improvements are needed.”

In its statement, Facebook said that its “teams must balance protecting the ability of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.”

“We continue to make significant improvements to combat the spread of misinformation and harmful content,” the company said. “To suggest that we encourage bad content and do nothing is simply not true.”

John D. McKinnon at [email protected]

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