Mark Zuckerberg took his seat in front of a full Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees to testify on the use of and protection of Facebook’s user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Did an intense line of questioning about privacy laws and data protection turn into a tutorial about how Facebook works?
Well, kind of. It seemed Zuckerberg simply explained how the internet worked to a few old men. However, a few points he said stood out to me watching the testimony live.
- He said his company “didn’t take a broad enough view” of its responsibility for Cambridge Analytica and called it a “big mistake” that he’s sorry for.
- When asked about the tracking of mobile phones while people are using any facebook app – He says it “isn’t possible to do that as in general phones aren’t set up that way.”
- Facebook ‘in general’ doesn’t collect data on other apps that you use.
- “We believe that we’re going to be investigating many apps — tens of thousands of apps — and if we find any suspicious activity, we’re going to conduct a full audit of those apps to understand how they’re using their data if they’re doing anything improper,” he said, in response to a question from Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. “And if we find that they’re doing anything improper, we’ll ban them from Facebook and we will tell everyone affected.”
Through almost 5 hours of intense questioning, it almost seemed like the senators had no idea how Facebook even worked. Perhaps the first day of the Zuckerberg hearings made it clear that many American lawmakers are illiterate when it comes to 21st-century technology. It appeared at first that perhaps Zuckerberg came out of this line of questioning relatively unscathed.
From a legal standpoint – the questions would often stump him and he avoided answering truthfully or skirted around the issue. Especially when the focus was directed at his terms and conditions. The Senate often found contradictions and errors in that text, especially regarding data. One senator even went as far to say that “it sucked”. Zuckerberg would then go on to conveniently gloss over those questions.
Zuckerberg’s viewpoint was that Facebook’s collected data should have been put to better use when regarding political ideologies. For instance, he is asked, “could this information be stored in Russia?” He does not know the answer to this question. He also stated, “ In retrospect, it was clearly a mistake” to believe Cambridge Analytica deleted data, without further examination.
It was also revealed that Facebook collected data on 1,500 users’ private messages. This was no doubt done in order to categorise data on its users. When asked “In which categories do you store this data in” he acted confused and didn’t answer the question.
I think it’s fair to say that the senators found Facebook to have some flaws and conflicting information in its terms and conditions. However, a lot of the advertising-based questions surrounding it are based on rumours. One view, in particular, is the common theory that Facebook collects your data and sells that information on to advertisers. This isn’t true – or at least it hasn’t been proven.
Advertisers come to Facebook to use a consumers data to better connect brands to their target demographic. They do not share this information out to third parties and advertisers don’t get to see the data itself. Advertisers give Facebook a profile of people (demographics, location, interests) that they would like to target with their ads, and Facebook does the rest. The data never leaves the platform.
Zuckerberg agreed with the Senate often that things needed to change and improve on the platform to better protect the vast amount of data it has curated over the years.
Some new ‘transparency measures’ that Facebook promises to implement may be beneficial. For instance – Facebook users will now be able to click on any advertiser on the platform and be able to view all the ads that firm is running. Facebook will also begin verifying every single advertiser running political ads.
Did Zuckerberg take responsibility? He did and apologised multiple times, generally saying that, in retrospect, they would’ve done things differently.
Was Facebook responsible for protecting user data? It was responsible for protecting it. Due to a lapse in judgment surrounding it though, this was breached.
Was Zuckerberg open to talks about further regulations being imposed regarding data? Yes. That massive booklet containing their terms and conditions needs some serious clarification…
If you wish to see if your data was used in the scandal – check that HERE