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Facebook Privacy Scandal Congress

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., center, questions Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. 

Associated Press

It is a matter of such importance that 44 U.S. senators attended a committee hearing that commanded the attention of every major media outlet in the nation.

What are the stakes? Democracy? National security? Global trade? Social Security? Medicare? Gun control? Immigration?

No, it's Facebook, where your “friends” know your name and in many cases much more because you tell them.

The hearing was held Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by South Dakota’s Sen. John Thune.

The uproar was fueled by recent reports that a third party — Cambridge Analytica — had plumbed data from 87 million Facebook users for President Trump’s campaign. It was a mistake acknowledged by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in his many apologies that addressed fake news, hate speech and Russian election meddling.

The primary focus Tuesday, however, was data privacy. In fact, the concern is so great to elected officials that Thune and other senators are threatening to regulate Facebook if it doesn’t take steps that satisfy them.

"It’s up to him to ensure that dream doesn’t become a privacy nightmare for the millions of Americans who use Facebook. If he fails to do so, new laws may be necessary to secure Americans’ privacy," Thune said of Zuckerberg in a column that appears below this editorial.

If regulation-adverse Republicans feel that regulating a successful business is needed, it must be a serious problem, right? Not necessarily.

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First, no one is required to join Facebook and those who do likely understand that when they communicate or do transactions on the internet they surrender their privacy to a degree. In many cases, they surrender more data than Facebook collects, which can be as little as hometown, job, school, birthday and relationship status.

The Patriot Act allows the government to monitor email communications and track users on the internet. If you click on an internet ad or visit a web site, you have left a footprint that can be traced back to you. Then there are the companies that require bank account information and Social Security numbers, prime targets for hackers.

What sets Facebook apart is the willingness of users to share information about families, hobbies, vacations, music, pets, politics and much more — information used to create market profiles for advertisers.

Facebook can be more transparent about the information it collects and shares with advertisers. At the same time, Facebook users need to take responsibility for their decisions and understand there is no absolute zone of privacy on the internet.

The last thing needed, however, is for politicians to "fix" the problem with legislation. We've seen to much of how Washington operates to expect that to work well. Tuesday's hearing was good in that it brought attention to how social media really works and the trade-offs made when it is used for our enjoyment. That is enough government oversight for now.

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