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What Facebook told Congress: It even knows when you need to charge your phone

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© Leah Millis/Reuters
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., on April 11, 2018.

By Elizabeth Weise and Ashley Wong, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO

Facebook tracks when you need to recharge your phone and even knows when you're looking at it on your computer screen, and it's okay with being regulated, as long as it gets to help write those regulations.

All this was revealed on Monday when the Senate released 454 pages of answers to questions sent to the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company after CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly promised lawmakers he'd have his team respond to questions he couldn't answer about Facebook's approach to privacy during two days of grueling Congressional hearings in April.

The additional answers were partly in response to the more than 2,000 questions senators had sent to the company in advance of those hearings, held on April 10 and 11 of this year, as well as questions posed by the senators after the hearings. During the hearings he frequently said that he would get back to the senators.

The hearings followed disclosures Cambridge Analytica had obtained information on 87 million users for political ad targeting.

The two separate documents, a 225-page set of answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee and a 229-page set of answers to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, were posted late Monday.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Facebook told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that it was open to privacy regulation, as long as it was “the right regulation.” In its answer, the company offered to write such laws itself.

The Committee asked whether the company would support baseline measures to ensure data security. In response, Facebook says that it’s committed to working with Congress “to craft the right regulations” and review any proposed legislation and provide comments.

Facebook also revealed that it collects data — a lot of data — about the various devices its users use to log in to it. This could include their computers, their smart phones and their tablets. It’s not simply where the user logged in from or what they did, but a surprisingly broad swatch of information about the machine they used. That includes their battery level, how much available storage they have and the strength of the WiFi signal the machine is receiving.

The company also knows whether you're actually looking at your Facebook window or if you've just got it open as one of many tabs. In its answers, it said it collects information about whether a user's browser window that has Facebook open is in the foreground or the background of the screen, as well as app and file names. In some cases, Facebook can also gather information about nearby devices, or other devices on the user's network.

As one of his 114 questions, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) posed a series of extremely detailed queries about what types of speech Facebook might define as hate speech and therefore censor, including statements such as “Islam is a religion of peace” and “Islam is a religion of war,” as well as “All white people are inherently racist,” and “All black people are inherently racist.”

In its answer, Facebook said it would define hate speech as something that was violent or dehumanizing, statements of inferiority, and calls for exclusion or segregation. It did not answer Cruz’ specific questions about the 27 statements listed in his question.

Cruz also asked what percentage of the moderators Facebook uses to check posted content were registered as Republicans or Democrats, or had donated, volunteered for, interned with or run for office in either party.

Facebook responded, "We do not maintain statistics on these data points."

The company also revealed that its partners are able to gather information about users' activities even if they're not logged into Facebook, including information about the purchases they make and the games they play.

Despite the length of the responses, many did not actually answer the questions asked. For example, the Committee said it “had become aware that Facebook has surveyed users about whether they trust the company to safeguard their privacy” and asked that Zuckerberg provide the results of any such survey.

But in a 326-word reply, Facebook did not say whether it surveyed its users or what it found if it did, instead reiterating, “Privacy is at the core of everything we do. And our approach to privacy starts with our commitment to transparency and control.”

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Technology - U.S. Daily News: What Facebook told Congress: It even knows when you need to charge your phone
What Facebook told Congress: It even knows when you need to charge your phone
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