Zuckerberg leaves Washington unscathed, despite these fine efforts to make him sweat
Over ten hours of grilling from American lawmakers complete, Mark Zuckerberg’s time in Washington is over. The second day of testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee again ended with very little to show for it, despite a punchier line of questioning than Zuckerberg had received the previous day from the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee.
As if five minutes for each member of Congress wasn’t tight enough, House representatives were allocated just four to grill the Facebook CEO. As a rule, Senate members were far less accommodating of Zuckerberg’s long meandering answers where he rigidly stuck to the same lines of defence rehearsed the day before: you have control over your data; mistakes were made but lessons were learned; Facebook is a force for good.
Once again, there were a few highlights to slightly discomfort Zuckerberg. Here they are:
Zuckerberg admits his data was exposed to Cambridge Analytica
“Was your data included in the data sold to the malicious third parties?” asked Anna Eshoo. After a pause, Zuckerberg finally answered “yes.” It’s a shame that the quick-fire nature of her questions meant there was no time for analysis of this – after all, if the CEO of Facebook was in a position where his data could be compromised, what hope does every other user have?
Kathy Castor grills Zuckerberg over its tracking of non-Facebook users
Some of the best questioning came from Kathy Castor, who chose to grill Zuckerberg on the company’s tracking of users not logged into Facebook – and it’s a pity she bumped up against the harsh limit of the four-minute clock. All the same, she managed to get some touch questions into the Facebook CEO:
CASTOR: You are collecting data on just about everybody. Yes, we understand the Facebook users that — that proactively sign in, they’re in part of the — that platform, but you’re following Facebook users even after they log off of that platform and application, and you are collecting personal information on people who do not even have Facebook accounts. Isn’t that right?
ZUCKERBERG: Congresswoman, I believe that we…
CASTOR: Yes or no?
ZUCKERBERG: Congresswoman, I — I’m not sure — I don’t think that that’s what we’re tracking.
CASTOR: No, you’re collecting — you have already acknowledged that you are doing that for security purposes, and commercial purposes. So you are — you’re collecting data outside of Facebook. When someone goes to a website, and it has the Facebook like or share, that data is being collected by Facebook, correct?
CASTOR: Yes or no.
ZUCKERBERG: That’s right, that we — that we understand, in order to show which of your friends liked a page…
CASTOR: Yeah, so for people who don’t even have Facebook — I don’t think that the average American really understands that today, something that fundamental, and that you’re tracking everyone’s online activities.
Jan Schakowsky embarrasses Zuckerberg with his long list of apologies
In listing Mark Zuckerberg’s many apologies over the years, Jan Schakowsky was making a clear point: the Facebook CEO has form in apologising and aiming to do better. “So it seems to me from this history that self-regulation — this is proof to me that self-regulation simply does not work,” she concluded.
Unfortunately, her follow-up questions were not actually on this, focusing on the specifics of Cambridge Analytica, handled at length elsewhere, and the point was lost until her very last sentence as time was called: “let me say, as we look at the distribution of information that who’s going to protect us from Facebook is also a question.”
Debbie Dingell attacks Zuckerberg for all the things he doesn’t know
Like a seasoned congressional-hearing pro, Zuckerberg was very effective at saying he didn’t have certain information to hand, but would supply it at a later date. This is generally an effective way of deflecting criticism, but Debbie Dingell was keeping track, and used it to effectively highlight how worrying it is that Facebook’s CEO seems to know so little about his company.
“As CEO, you didn’t know some key facts. You didn’t know about major court cases regarding your privacy policies against your company,” she began. “You didn’t know that the FTC doesn’t have fining authority and that Facebook could not have received fines for the 2011 consent order. You didn’t know what a shadow profile was. You didn’t know how many apps you need to audit. You did not know how many other firms have been sold data by Dr. Kogan other than Cambridge Analytica and Eunoia Technologies, even though you were asked that question yesterday. And yes, we were all paying attention yesterday. You don’t even know all the kinds of information Facebook is collecting from its own users.”
Appropriately enough, Dingell’s follow up questions received an additional four things that Zuckerberg didn’t know off the top of his head.
Zuckerberg has a lot of homework to do
In total, there were over 20 moments when Zuckerberg promised to get back to Congress on specific questions, leaving a lot of work for him (or more likely, his minions) to do on his return to California.
But in terms of direct scrutiny, that’s Zuckerberg’s time in Washington done, and although some politicians had an able stab at forcing the Facebook CEO to commit to better protections for its users, it ultimately didn’t amount to much. For Facebook’s shareholders, it was job done: no wonder stocks rose nearly $3 billion over the course of his testimony.