Zuckerberg Faces Intense Questioning Before House Panel
On his second and final day of testimony on Capitol Hill, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg encountered far less good cheer from lawmakers Wednesday as they subjected him to intense questioning over security breaches and even about drug sales occurring on the platform.
Zuckerberg, whose appearance was not subpoenaed, came before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday after running a near six hour long gauntlet of questions about Cambridge Analytica a day earlier.
The data firm affiliated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign gathered personal information of 87 million users in order to influence the 2016 election and according to Zuckerberg, his own information was swept up by the firm too.
Revelations unearthed in Zuckerberg’s testimony over the last two days also appeared to spook Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Tayler.
Tayler announced Wednesday he would step down from the role and resume his former position as chief data officer at the firm. It is not yet clear who his replacement will be.
The firm did not immediately respond to request for comment.
While the Cambridge scandal was never far from lawmakers lips, Wednesday’s hearing also leaned more toward talk of regulation.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, pushed Zuckerberg to explain what category of industry Facebook would fall under, seeking a definition which could one day make regulating the company possible.
“Are you a tech company, a publishing company or a media company?” Pallone asked.
First and foremost, the CEO said, Facebook is a tech company. Streaming entertainment, like Major League Baseball games; giving users the ability to send money through its messaging app; and even Facebook’s side projects designing airplanes, makes Facebook, which began in Zuckerberg’s basement – a tech company, by default.
“These are all just parts of what we do as a tech company. They don’t define our purpose or use,” he said.
Lawmakers didn’t stick to the debate over classification for long but wanted definitions of a different kind. Namely, how privacy and security features currently function on the platform. Pallone, and several other lawmakers expressed a need for legislation that would give users more information about how their data is collected and put to use.
“People have the right to know,” Pallone said before asking Zuckerberg if Facebook would change its default user settings so that individuals have more autonomy over their privacy and content.
“Will you update the settings, yes or no?” Pallone demanded.
As cross talk settled, Zuckerberg said his answer would be “a complex one” and Pallone derided the response as “disappointing.”
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, put a finer point on security concerns, pressing Zuckerberg for a crash course on Facebook’s terms of service.
Could a layperson confidently determine, just by reading the terms that the protections promised in the language are really strong enough to serve them?
“If someone wanted to know that, they could,” Zuckerberg said. “But a lot of people just accept terms of service without taking time to read through it.”
Facebook’s responsibility, in his view, is not just about laying out terms and then getting consent.
It’s about “making sure people understand that’s what’s happening throughout the product,” he said.
But that notion didn’t instill much confidence in Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.
Holding up a photo of a Facebook profile page advertising opioids for sale without a prescription, McKinley, whose constituency is one of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, raised his voice as he spoke.
“Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription. Facebook is enabling an illegal activity and in doing so, you’re hurting people,” McKinley said.
“There are 100 billion pieces of content [on Facebook] every day. 20,000 [Facebook employees] can’t review all of the questionable content,” Zuckerberg said, before noting that there were a number of areas where Facebook needed to “do a better job of policing the platform.”
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, was also unconvinced the current security measures on Facebook were enough to prevent Big Brother-like spying on individuals who may not even be on Facebook
The process is known as shadow profiling and though Lujan mentioned it by name, Zuckerberg said he wasn’t familiar with the term.
Shadow profiles are built by Facebook independently of a user’s actual profile. It picks information from a user, a user’s friends and other third parties and fuels Facebook’s capabilities, such as the “find your friends” feature.
Shadow profiles also collect information about users from data brokers, or companies that analyze information and sell it to other organizations.
When Lujan kept after Zuckerberg, he admitted he was unable to say how many types of data were gathered about non-members but that it was done for “security purposes.”
“You said everyone controls their data. But you are collecting data on people that are not even Facebook users, that have never signed a consent or privacy agreement,” Lujan lamented. “When you go to Facebook’s ‘I don’t have a Facebook account’ page and would like to request all the personal data stored by [your company] it takes you to a form that says ‘go to your Facebook page.’ Then on your account settings you can download your data. So you’re directing people that don’t even have a Facebook page to sign up for a Facebook page to access their data.”
Zuckerberg curried less favor with another Democrat, Debbie Dingell of Michigan.
“As CEO you didn’t know key facts. You didn’t know about key court cases regarding privacy and your company. You didn’t know the FTC doesn’t have fining. You didn’t know what a shadow profile is. You don’t know how many apps you need to audit. You don’t know what other companies were sold the [Cambridge Analytica] data, even though you were asked that yesterday,” she said before asking how many “like” buttons were even in existence.
Zuckerberg had no answer.
Dingell asked the CEO to find out and report the information back to congress within three days.
To read the article on the Courthouse News Service website, click here.
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