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Chris Collins 'friends' Mark Zuckerberg at House hearing

WASHINGTON — Facebook found a friend in Rep. Chris Collins.

Near the end of an hours-long House hearing Wednesday in which other lawmakers took turns bashing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for allowing privacy invasions, Collins spent four minutes "liking" the tech billionaire and much of what he did in two days of congressional testimony.

"You know, as I'm listening to you today I'm quite confident that you truly are doing good, you believe in what you're doing," said Collins, a Clarence Republican.

Because Collins is still a backbencher on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the third-term lawmaker from the Buffalo area was the 48th House member to question Zuckerberg.

Most lawmakers took a strikingly different tone than Collins. For example, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, upbraided Zuckerberg for at one time allowing app developers to have broad access to the personal data of Facebook users and their friends.

"Who is going to protect us from Facebook?" she asked.

Collins, though, had harsher words for Schakowsky than for Zuckerberg.

"That threw me back in my chair," he said of Schakowsky's comment. "That certainly was an aggressive – we'll use the polite word, aggressive – but I think out-of-bounds kind of comment. That's just my opinion."

Given that Zuckerberg had to face such comments from members of Congress, Collins told the tech billionaire: "I've got to give you all the credit in the world."

Collins even struck a different tone than some of his fellow Republicans, who questioned whether the giant social media platform Zuckerberg created plays political favorites and leans leftward. Rep. Billy Long, a Missouri Republican, upbraided Zuckerberg for Facebook's blocking of Diamond and Silk, two YouTube personalities who strongly back President Trump.

Showing off a huge photo of the two women, Long told Zuckerberg: "Diamond and Silk have a question for you and that question is, 'What is unsafe about two black women supporting President Donald J. Trump?' "

Hearing that and other accusations of bias from Republicans, Collins defended the Facebook founder.

"I sincerely know in my heart that you do believe in keeping all ideas equal," Collins said. "You may vote a certain way or not but that doesn't matter."

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Similarly, while the Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree that requires it to respect the wishes of its users regarding privacy, Collins talked about that consent decree as a good-enough guide for Facebook's future.

"The consent degree does what it does," Collins said. "There would be significant financial penalties for Facebook to ignore that consent decree. ... I don't think we need more regulations and legislation now."

For his part, Zuckerberg said more regulation of Facebook was "inevitable."

The House hearing, like a Senate hearing a day earlier, focused on Facebook's long-abandoned policy of allowing app developers to access not only the data of Facebook users who use that app, but also their friends.

Zuckerberg told Collins that Facebook changed that policy in 2014. Now, he said, when users sign onto an app on Facebook, that app gets access to that person's data only.

But that previous policy allowed an app developer named Aleksandr Kogan to break Facebook's rules and sell personal data collected through an app he created to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that then used that data to benefit Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook now admits that Cambridge Analytica got unauthorized access to personal data from 87 million of the social network's users.

In the view of Collins – a businessman himself and long a champion of entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg – that wasn't Facebook's fault. It was Kogan's.

"It's very hard to anticipate a bad actor doing what they're doing until after they've done it," Collins said.

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