STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One of the senators who questioned Mark Zuckerberg today is Ed Markey of Massachusetts. He's on one of the two committees that invited the Facebook CEO to drop by. Unlike past invitations, Zuckerberg said yes to this one. He's facing immense questions about Facebook's use of personal data. Senator Markey, among others, gets to ask questions about that, and he's on the line. Senator, good morning.
ED MARKEY: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK. So I just checked Facebook and discovered that I got one of the 87 million or so notifications they're sending out that my information went to this company, Cambridge Analytica, and may have been misused. So Facebook is disclosing that, and they've also apologized. Is that enough?
MARKEY: No. It's just the beginning. We now are at this moment of reckoning, not just with Facebook but with the entire online industry in terms of what are the protections, which every American should have in terms of these companies trying to monetize, reuse your private information for purposes other than that which that consumer, that American, had originally intended.
INSKEEP: OK. You just said monetize. Let me drill down on that. Is the fundamental problem here not just, you know, losing control of information but the business model? The fact is Facebook is going to gather enormous amounts of data about us and amounts that may trouble us, and that's how they make money, by making use of that data.
MARKEY: Yeah. I think that's the point, that the ordinary American thinks of themselves as a customer when in the business model of many of the companies they're just the product. They're just trying to gather information about you in order to resell it to yet another third party who you don't know at all and had never had any intention of doing any business with, having a relationship with. So the question is how did that culture reach a point where Americans really feel powerless in terms of their ability to control that reuse and especially with a company like Facebook, which is operating under an ongoing federal trade commission consent decree from 2011...
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah, it was supposed to be taking care of people's personal information. Let me ask, though, about what it is that Congress can do here. I know you've proposed various bills, but I'll note that you're in the minority. You're a Democrat. When we spoke with Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook the other day, she noted there was really only one measure which seemed a little on the minor side that - to her anyway - that even has a slight chance of passing. Is there something that seriously has a chance of passing Congress that would in any way regulate a company like Facebook?
MARKEY: Well, I think, again, that this is a new era. I don't think we can any longer think about this the way we did before this revelation. I'm the author of the Child Online Privacy Act of 1999. That's the constitution for the protection of information of children online. That is for children 12 and under. I think it should be updated to under 16. I think that parents and children should have a right to say no to these companies, that they absolutely don't want their children's information to be reused for purposes other than that which the parents and the children intended.
I can't believe that Facebook and others would say no, that children shouldn't have protections. But that industry has opposed protections for even children over the past decade. But I think that it's going to extend to adults as well. I think that there's going to be some - a desire to have consent, to have opt in be the standard for the years ahead.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's interesting - opt in, meaning you would only have your data used in strange ways if you affirmatively said yes to that. Because time is brief, I want to ask about one other thing. The bill that Sheryl Sandberg did mention actually was your bill, I believe. It's called the Honest Ads Act. It's supposed to make it easier for us to find out who's paying for political ads online. Facebook now says it's going to do that on its own. In a few seconds, can this company self-regulate in this or any other area?
MARKEY: Yeah, that's a bill which Amy Klobuchar and others have introduced. I don't think that it can be voluntary. I don't think any of this can be voluntary. I think it has to be mandatory. It has to be across the entire industry because it's just not one company, Facebook, but it would be any other site as well. In each one of these areas, we can't be dependent upon the voluntary compliance of individual companies. There has to be a law. There has to be an absolute mandate that Americans now have a right to this information about advertisements to them during campaigns but in general the protection of their privacy as a matter of law. Facebook accepted that consent decree back in 2011.
INSKEEP: Senator, got to stop you there. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, thanks very much.
MARKEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.