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Facebook gives 500 pages of answers to lawmakers' data privacy questions

Facebook gives 500 pages of answers to lawmakers' data privacy questions
© Greg Nash

Facebook said Monday that it is committed to improving its data security practices and is still investigating the extent of the Cambridge Analytica leaks in a nearly 500-page response to questions from lawmakers.

In many cases, Facebook provided standard answers, rehashing already known information about its platform, and sidestepped questions from senators on the Commerce and Judiciary committees, before which CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Russia-linked hackers hit Eastern European companies | Twitter shares data on influence campaigns | Dems blast Trump over China interference claims | Saudi crisis tests Silicon Valley | Apple to let customers download their data Public funds support proposal to remove Zuckerberg as Facebook chairman Obama responds to several excuses people give for not voting in new video MORE testified in April.

In one exchange, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats slide in battle for Senate O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (R-Texas) asked a detailed set of questions about Facebook’s market dominance based off research from New York University, which Facebook sidestepped with the exact same answer it provided to Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanHundreds of female Alaska attorneys call on Murkowski, Sullivan to vote 'no' on Kavanaugh Hillicon Valley: Seven Russians indicted for hacking | Apple, Amazon servers reportedly compromised by China | Pence calls on Google to end censored search engine work | Ireland investigates Facebook breach Senate passes key cyber bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS MORE’s (R-Alaska) general question about Facebook posing antitrust concerns, 70 pages prior.

In response to both questions, Facebook argued that there is still robust competition among social apps.

“The average American uses eight different apps to communicate with their friends and stay in touch with people,” Facebook wrote in its response.

“Equally, companies also have more options than ever when it comes to advertising — from billboards, print and broadcast, to newer platforms like Facebook, Spotify, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Amazon, or Snapchat,” the company continued, noting that it only made up 6 percent of the $650 billion global ad market.

Facebook reiterated that it is investigating Cambridge Analytica, the defunct British research firm used by the Trump campaign that improperly obtained data on 87 million Facebook users — the impetus for the Senate’s questioning of Zuckerberg — as well as other apps that had access to significant amounts of user data.

Facebook also committed to further briefing lawmakers on data security issues.

While much of Facebook’s response stuck to already revealed information, it did highlight often-overlooked areas about the extent of data that it collects on its users.

In response to a question from Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Congress moves to ensure the greater availability of explosives detecting dogs in the US McConnell sets key Kavanaugh vote for Friday MORE (R-Mo.), the company outlined its detailed process of collecting data across devices — including smart TVs, computers, tablets and phones — on which a user can access Facebook.

“For example, we use information collected about a person’s use of our Products on their phone to better personalize the content (including ads) or features they see when they use our Products on another device, such as their laptop or tablet, or to measure whether they took an action in response to an ad we showed them on their phone or on a different device,” Facebook wrote.

Data Facebook gets from these devices includes "nearby Wi-Fi access points, beacons, and cell towers," and “information such as the operating system, hardware and software versions, battery level, signal strength, available storage space, browser type, app and file names and types, and plugins.”

Read Facebook’s response in its entirety here.