October 18, 2018

#ZuckerbergTestimony Day Two: Facebook CEO faces tougher questions in House of Representatives

It seems as if the lawmakers from the US House of Representatives had done their homework. Reportedly, international organizations stated that Mr.Zuckerberg faced tougher questions on Day two as compared to Day 1.

On Day two, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was faced with another round of questions by the Congress. Earlier, he was at the Senate. But on day two, he was to be questioned by members of the US House of Representatives.

Here is a quick review of some of the issues that came up:

Regulation of the industry “inevitable”:
Representative Greg Walden raised some important points. He stated that while Facebook might have grown, it had not matured. Also, while floating the proposal of regulation, he said: I think it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things.”
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg stated that some form of “regulation” of the internet industry is inevitable. But warned lawmakers that they need to think about it thoroughly before putting in place regulations that might be difficult for startups to comply with.

Concerns around user privacy:
A number of senators pressed hard about their concerns around use privacy. One senator asked him if he committed to minimize the data collection by changing Facebook’s default settings. In response to that, Zuckerberg said: “This is a complex issue that deserves more than a one-word answer.”

One Representative Kathy Castor questioned Zuckerberg on different kinds of data that he collected. She even asked if he collected data of people even if they were not on Facebook, to which Zuckerberg did not give a clear cut answer. Watch more below:

One Representative even asked if Zuckerberg’s data was also compromised to which he responded “Yes.” However, when asked if he was willing to change his business model in favor of user privacy, he said he wasn’t sure what that meant.

Censorship of Conservative data:
Concerns were raised about the censorship of conservative data. Representative Joe Barton asked Mark why his platform was censoring conservative content and also asked if he committed to ensure the neutrality of the platform. In response to that, Zuckerberg said that the team made an “enforcement error” while blocking conservative content like Silk and Diamond and that they were already in touch with them to reverse it.

#ZuckerbergTestimony Day 1: Amidst Privacy concerns, Facebook CEO grilled by US Congress for more than five hours

 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the US Congress for more than five hours here on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

Mr. Zuckerberg testified before 44 Senators, responding to a range of questions around privacy, business model and steps to curtail hate speech. Each senator was given five minutes to ask him questions.

This is the first time Mr. Zuckerberg testifies before the Congress.

The testimony was scheduled in the wake of recent revelations that a data mining firm named Cambrige Analytica mined the data of 87 million Facebook users across the world, mostly Americans to influence opinions of people during 2016 US Presidential elections.

A number of issues were brought up during the testimony. Here is a glimpse of some of them:

Zuckerberg Offers apology in opening statement

At the start of the hearing, Mark Zuckerberg stated that he was “sorry” and that he took full responsibility for not doing enough to prevent harm caused in the wake of fake news, interference in foreign elections, hate speech and privacy.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a mistake,” said Mark.

However, he assured that he had taken steps recently to prevent data breach of that sort in future.

“We’re investigating every single app that had access to a large amount of information in the past. And if we find that someone improperly used data, we’re going to ban them from Facebook and tell everyone affected,” said Zuckerberg.

Ironing out his priorities he stated: “My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community, and bringing the world closer together. Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I am running Facebook.”

Why Facebook users weren’t informed about Cambridge Analytica breach?

In his testimony, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that their investigation surrounding Cambridge Analytica was still going. He said that they immediately took down the app and demanded that they delete the data that they had acquired.  When asked, why he did not notify the 87 million users when he came to know about the breach, he said:

“When we heard back from Cambridge Analytica that they had told us that they weren’t using the data and deleted it, we considered it a closed case. In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.”

Also, in the video he stated they did not ban Cambridge Analytica from Facebook as they were not there running pages and as advertisers. However, Guardian reported that he later corrected himself and stated that they were around in 2015 and could even ban them theoretically but made a mistake.

Facebook believes data  sold to other companies not just Cambridge Analytica, promises more transparency on political ads

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that while the full investigation was under way, he believed that there were more companies not just Cambridge Analytica that might have access to Facebook user data.  He stated this in response to questions by Senator Tammy Baldwin.

In same response, Mr.Zuckerberg also promised more transparency around who sponsored content over the Facebook and what district that they targeted.

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know how long Facebook keeps a user’s data

When one Senator asked if Facebook also deleted a user’s data once the account was deleted, he replied in affirmative. However, when asked for how long did Facebook keep data before it was deleted, he expressed his ignorance at the exact time after they delete the data.

Is Facebook a Monopoly?

When Senator Lindsay Graham asked Mark Zuckerberg if he considered Facebook a monopoly, he said it didn’t feel like that to him.

Facebook welcomes “Right regulations”

In response to questions, Mark Zuckerberg said that he was open to government regulations as long as they were “right” kind of regulations. Senator Lindsay Graham even proposed that he may turn in some proposals for regulation of his industry to which he responded in affirmative.

Who owns my data?

Another Senator John Tester called out Facebook CEO for his vague terms and conditions that allowed Facebook to use data to make money out of it.

Zuckerberg not comfortable sharing personal information publicly

When Senator Dick Durbin asked Mark Zuckerberg to share about the hotel he stayed in last night, he was clearly put off guard and expressed his discomfort in telling publicly about his personal information. He also said that he would not be comfortable sharing the personal text he sent publicly. This is a paradoxical situation as Facebook has been accused of harvesting personal information of people and selling it out to companies.

 

Is Facebook a neutral public platform? Republican Senator Ted Cruz accuses Facebook of suppressing “Conservative” content

When Senator Ted Cruz asked Zuckerberg whether it was a neutral platform, he said: “We consider ourselves to be a platform for all ideas. “ When the senator repeated the same question again, he said that there were certain content that they did not allow on Facebook including terrorism, nudity as it made people feel unsafe.

Later, Senator Ted Cruz laid out a list of pages and Facebook accounts that were blocked by Facebook, apparently referring to the idea that Facebook was not open to allow “conservative” content on its platform.  In response to this, Zuckerberg acknowledged that it was a “fair” concern and that Silicon Valley was a “left-leaning” place.

Also, when asked if he knew about the political orientation of 15000 people responsible for content review, he said that the company did not generally asked about the political orientation of the employees.

 

Artificial Intelligence to block hate speech, but does Facebook already has a definition for hatespeech?

In his testimony, Zuckerberg also claimed that the company will be putting in place Artificial intelligence to track down hate speech, but remained unclear when questioned on whether he had a definition of hate speech.


Make your terms and conditions palatable for an average user, urges Senator John Kennedy

Senator John Kennedy told the Mark that Facebook “user agreement sucks” and that he needed to do more so that the average American was able to understand it.

How does Facebook remain free? They “run ads”

One Senator also questioned about how Facebook remained a free service. Mark Zuckerberg replied: “Senator we run ads.”

The hearing will also take place on Wednesday April 11, 2018.

Did senators miss an important opportunity to hold Facebook accountable?

In the wake of Cambridge Analytica Scandal, it was expected that there would be tons of questions around consumer data, privacy and the steps that the Facebook would be taking to ensure that something like this did not happen. However, some people expressed annoyance at the way senators were going off topic and did not do enough to grill him around privacy issues.

One commentator Dylan Byres wrote on CNN:

“The senators’ lack of understanding allowed Zuckerberg to evade important, unanswered questions about the extent of Facebook’s data monitoring and why the company hasn’t been more transparent with users how their data is used and how it’s been abuse.”

 

Written by

Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.

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