Morning News Brief: Facebook Response, Friday Budget Deadline

Mar 22, 2018
Originally published on March 22, 2018 7:03 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Mark Zuckerberg says he is sorry.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah, the Facebook CEO is making the media rounds after it was revealed that a tech firm took data from 50 million Facebook users and then used it to try to influence the 2016 election. In an interview with CNN, Zuckerberg made a fairly surprising remark. He signaled that he'd be open to Facebook being regulated in some kind of way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDERSON COOPER 360")

MARK ZUCKERBERG: I actually think the question is more, what is the right regulation, rather than, yes or no, should it be regulated?

GREENE: OK, we have NPR's Aarti Shahani here.

Aarti, you've covered this company. You've covered this CEO for a long time. What stood out to you?

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: You know, well, he said - he had a lot to say. And about the recent scandal, Zuckerberg says his company's going to audit thousands of apps - OK? - meaning a lot of the games, the dating apps, the news, the music streaming services you might use through Facebook. And, you know, to get those apps to build on Facebook years ago, to make Facebook the powerhouse it is today, they used to have to offer to share lots of user data. But, you know, that's how they ended up with this leaky, insecure system that spiraled out of control and, you know, tossed tens of millions of profiles into the hands of Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg has not yet explained why his company failed to be more careful early on. And as Facebook was ramping up its mobile advertising business - OK? - going from $0 to $13 billion in just five years, and out of nowhere, competing with Google, part of that strategy may have been to play fast and loose with user data. So, you know, that needs more scrutiny.

GREENE: You say scrutiny. I mean, there're a lot of questions remaining, not just about what Zuckerberg is going to do in the future, but how we actually got here. And I just think about this research firm you mentioned, Cambridge Analytica, using this data to microtarget users. Isn't that really key to Facebook's whole business model?

SHAHANI: Yeah. You know, this is a really important point. This scandal brought privacy issues to life, OK? It got people asking, do you really want every like, every post, every click, every new friend to be turned into a data point so that Facebook...

GREENE: Maybe not. Maybe not.

SHAHANI: Or maybe not. Right. I mean, do you want Facebook to sell you or access to you to whoever's buying? Listen for a moment to this former Facebook employee, Dipayan Ghosh. He's got a very skeptical take on what the company is doing.

DIPAYAN GHOSH: The business model of this company is directly in contradiction to user privacy. We all know that. And it is always going to be a difficulty to try to move forward in this industry in a way that is sensitive to privacy and security risks.

SHAHANI: You know, so say you don't want to tell Facebook your gender, your race, your marital status. You skip those parts of the profile, but they figure it out anyway from what you're doing, the stories you're clicking on, the groups you're joining. You end up revealing the inner workings of your mind and your biases, and the business is to exploit that.

GREENE: And if the business is actually making users vulnerable and Zuckerberg is saying that he is committed to not making users as vulnerable, the question is, does he have to change the business model? Which, I guess, is one question that might come up if he is brought before Congress, which sounds like - is a possibility now.

SHAHANI: Yeah, I mean, you're right. It could come down to fundamentals that have not been asked thus far of him directly in congressional testimony. He says he's happy to testify before Congress if it's the right thing to do. Those were his words.

GREENE: That's a caveat, yeah.

SHAHANI: Yeah, it's quite a caveat. And, you know, he could decide the right thing to do is to send his lawyers to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee instead. You know, so we have to see about that. Fact is, Zuckerberg is 33 years old. He's already built a company that is more powerful than most countries, and he's taking his legacy very seriously.

GREENE: Yeah, quite a moment for Mark Zuckerberg.

SHAHANI: It is.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Aarti Shahani. Aarti, thanks a lot.

SHAHANI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE NATIONAL SONG, "LEMONWORLD")

GREENE: All right, on Capitol Hill, party leaders have now agreed on a spending bill.

MARTIN: Yup. And Congress has until just tomorrow night to pass this big spending bill - we should say, $1.3 trillion. If they don't, it will trigger yet another partial government shutdown. So what is in this bill? A whole lot because the thing is more than 2,000 pages long.

GREENE: And you, Domenico Montanaro, have read the entire thing. Is that right?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Nope.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Very nice confession. Domenico Montanaro from NPR's political team. OK, even if you haven't read it, is...

MONTANARO: I have a pretty good idea.

MARTIN: This is going to be a super-informed conversation.

GREENE: Yeah. We do know it's a compromise, right? So, I mean, can you tell us at least what each side got here?

MONTANARO: Yeah. So here's what both sides are saying when I get the cheat sheet and crib notes on this, OK?

MARTIN: Nice.

MONTANARO: There are a lot of things in this bill, and I'm going to run through a few of them on both sides, so bear with me a little bit. But for Republicans, let's start there. There's a big increase in military spending - $1.6 billion for border security that goes mostly to technology - so the White House not thrilled with that because they wanted some $25 billion for a wall. This doesn't go to that.

GREENE: They want it to explicitly say wall, not just security on the border, which is a distinction.

MONTANARO: Yeah, and it's just, they want more money. And right now, it's only 1.6 billion of the 25 that the White House wanted. There's also a fix to the Republican tax law that they had wanted. And then there's a whole bunch of stuff on the Democratic side in order to give some of those items to Republicans. There's lots of increases to domestic programs, funding for opioids, you know, rural broadband, student loans, child care. And they're also allowing the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence, something that hadn't been done in the past. And it also includes some funding to states for what they call the Fix NICS program on background checks to try to allow states to, you know - to try to fix the fact that some of the states have not been reporting to the background check database that they had been wanting.

There's also a blocking of the tips policy - the new policy from the administration that would've allowed employers to pocket some of that restaurant money, some of those tips as long as they paid them minimum wage. So that's no longer included. And it also includes $2.8 billion, as I said, to battle opioid addiction. And there's this tunnel in New York and New Jersey that the president said he would veto, and instead of it being direct funding, it is going directly to Amtrak, which can then use the funding - so lots of stuff in here.

GREENE: Well, so can President Trump live with this? Do we think he'll sign it if Congress passes it?

MONTANARO: So he tweeted last night that he appears to be OK with it. He touted the fact that they got the border funding, and he swatted at Democrats for not including anything on DACA or immigration. So there's nothing in there for people on the left who wanted something on an immigration fix, but it does look like the president's OK with it.

GREENE: So will the government shut down? Big question.

MONTANARO: It doesn't look like the government's going to shut down. You know, they're hoping that conservatives will kind of get over the fact that they're upset with this new spending, that Rand Paul won't block it. But he may be the key here, and we'll be watching over the next 24 hours.

GREENE: He might like this role, Rand Paul - like, relish being - having that influence over what happens.

MONTANARO: Yeah, but I think he - that's true, but I think he really wants to see the government spend less money.

GREENE: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, investigators in Austin, Texas, have new information about the man who terrorized that city for three weeks with these homemade bombs.

MARTIN: Yeah, the man's name is Mark Conditt. And in the hours before his death, he recorded a 25-minute video confessing to these bombings. Austin police Chief Brian Manley says Conditt, though, did not reveal any motive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN MANLEY: ...Nor does he mention anything about hate. But instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.

GREENE: All right, let's bring in Nadia Hamdan. She's from member station KUT in Austin.

Hi, Nadia.

NADIA HAMDAN, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: So the question of motive still seems to be a mystery. We're learning more about this man - I mean, that there is this confession that we have, but we still don't really know why he did this, right?

HAMDAN: We really don't. And, you know, and I even asked Manley privately just to confirm that there was nothing within the video that gave them any indication as to why this young man did what he did. I mean, even in the presser, Manley says everybody always wants to understand the reason, and sometimes we can't assign a reason to irrational acts. So it's an unfortunate truth, I guess, that you can't sometimes always know why people do what they do. But Manley did say that within the video, the 23-year-old did go into the differences between the bombs. So he took the time to show, I guess, law enforcement how he differentiated the bombs even though law enforcement did say that there were similarities between them. I guess he wanted to show that there were slight differences, and he actually took the time in the video to go over that. So yes...

GREENE: Wow.

HAMDAN: We're - still have questions, I guess, so...

GREENE: Confessing to every little detail, it sounds like, for whatever reason. It was such a quickly moving day yesterday - must have been crazy in the city. I mean, how did police actually track him down?

HAMDAN: So, I mean, I think what we've been able to understand is that obviously, the explosion that happened at the FedEx kind of was a trip-up (ph), it seems like. And it was able to give a connection to another bomb that did not explode at another FedEx facility that was then able to let them go back to the FedEx office. And then this all kind of just spiraled into them being able to lead back to a vehicle, which then led them to the suspect. And it led to their Pflugerville home, which now they have - are still searching for different explosive devices that are within his home. And so now I guess we know who it is. We have the confession, and it's a bit disappointing. And obviously, we are all still very shaken by everything that has happened. But at least for now, it feels that it is over.

GREENE: All right, Nadia Hamdan of member station KUT in Austin, a city that, as you just said, is feeling somewhat better but still shaken by all this this morning. Nadia, thanks a lot.

HAMDAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO INTERRUPTED'S "CAMERA OBSCURA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.