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Sam Forsdick

Reporter

Senate hearing: Twitter and Facebook agree that people should have control of their data

Senior executives from Twitter and Facebook appeared before a Senate select committee on Wednesday (5 Sept) and were questioned on issues of how to prevent election interference and data ownership.

When asked whether users should have the right to control what happens to their data, both replied with a definite “yes”.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, said: “It’s your information; you share it with us if you want to delete it we delete it and if you want to take it with you we enable you to download it and take it with you.”

She also said that Facebook would be working on tools to make the process of regularly deleting your data easier and to help people understand the information they collect on users and how they get it.

The CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, agreed and added: “We do believe people should have complete control of their data… I don’t think there’s a real understanding of the exchange being made in terms of people performing activities on services like Twitter and how they can see that as an exchange of value.”

The Twitter co-founder also claimed that the social media site placed too much emphasis on followers and explained that they are “rethinking the incentives that our services give to people”.

Dorsey added: “Is the number of followers you have really a proxy for the amount you contribute to Twitter and this digital public square? We don’t believe it is. We are still coming up with the details of what this will look like and what this will include.”

Both reiterated that they will continue to look at ways to improve transparency and detection in order to prevent the use of bots and the spread of fake news – especially in relation to the number of fake accounts that spread disinformation during the 2016 US election.

When question whether Iran, Russia or other agents had “attempted to amplify the reach of hoaxes” Dorsey said: “We certainly have evidence that they have utilised our systems and gamed our systems to amplify information.”

Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee described it as “the era of the wild west of social media” and said in his opening address: “Russian disinformation has revealed a dark underbelly of the entire online ecosystem and this threatens to cheapen American discourse weaken privacy and undermine our democracy on a previously unimagined scale.

“Worse, this is only going to get harder as we move into Artificial Inteligence and “deep fake” technology. “

Addressing the new issues that social media companies will face, including “deep fakes” that use AI to create fake videos, the two social media heads said they were investing in new technologies and investing in people to meet the challenge.

Google were unable to present their views on the issues raised as they declined the invitation to attend with an empty chair left in their place. Senator Marco Rubio suggested it was “because they are arrogant”.