Mark Zuckerberg answered questions from the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees for about five hours yesterday. I watched about a half hour of it towards the end and he was answering basic questions about how Facebook worked. It seemed superficial and not that difficult for him. Zuckerberg clearly had his talking points and was sticking to them. The hearing was not set up for Zuckerberg to be asked in depth questions as each senator had just five minutes to ask him questions. Many of them asked questions about how Facebook worked and seemed unaware of the basics. Zuckerberg said he would follow up on the tougher questions and then spent the time answering the things he knew. He’s testifying again today in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and hopefully the representatives will be more prepared and pointed in their questions. It seemed like many of the Senators didn’t do their homework. One exception yesterday was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) who asked Zuckerberg why the users were never informed when Facebook learned in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had been misusing their data.
Harris, whose turn came later in the day, immediately reeled off a list of inquiries Zuckerberg had seemed to successfully parry.
“During the course of this hearing, these last four hours, you’ve been asked several critical questions for which you don’t have answers,” Harris began. “Those questions have included whether Facebook can track users’ browsing activity even after the user has logged off of Facebook; whether Facebook can track your activity across devices even when you aren’t logged into Facebook; who is Facebook’s biggest competition; whether Facebook may store up to 96 categories of users’ information; whether you knew (data scientist Aleksandr) Kogan’s terms of service and whether you knew that Kogan could sell or transfer data.”
The list went on. Harris then asked Zuckerberg if he had taken part in, or was aware of, any conversation among Facebook executives in which it was decided more than two years ago not to immediately notify users that their information had been shared with the data firm Cambridge Analytica.
“I’m not sure what other people discussed,” Zuckerberg said, adding after Harris pressed him, “I don’t remember a conversation like that.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) questioned Zuckerberg about the fact that Facebook is being used to track activists including the Black Lives Matter movement and the fact that companies have been able to use Facebook data to target and exclude certain communities in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Zuckerberg said he was “committed” to safeguarding user information and “we should follow up on the details” of how civil rights organizations might audit facebook to ensure that it’s not being misused.
Facebook is a monopoly with vast amounts of data on hundreds of millions of people. Sen. Lindsey Graham (D-SC) tried to push Zuckerberg to say whether he thought Facebook was a monopoly and he answered “Doesn’t feel like that to me.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) very pointedly told Zuckerberg “Your user agreement sucks.” I agree that Facebook sucks in general. While Zuckerberg may have had the media training to be able to sit for a few hours and rehash talking points, he didn’t instill much faith in Facebook protecting user data moving forward. The decision in 2015 not to inform users about Cambridge Analytica tells us all we need to know about their commitment to privacy.
Facebook has changed the course of history. By sitting back and doing nothing in 2015 they enabled a series of events that helped put Trump in power and which will negatively affect the most vulnerable people in the US and the world for years to come. I don’t think I’m overstating this. Zuckerberg needs to answer to more than just five minutes of questioning from each senator. He did confirm yesterday that Facebook is working with Mueller on the investigation into Russian interference in the election, but said he had not personally been interviewed. Facebook needs to be investigated as well.
Also, my son showed me photos of this pillow Zuckerberg sat on yesterday during the hearings. It’s being called a booster seat, but apparently it’s provided by the committee and wasn’t something Zuckerberg brought with him.
Stop infantilizing Mark Zuckerberg! Also, here’s his booster seat. (Photographs by Evy Mages.) pic.twitter.com/MeKwDZwIEF
— Andrew Beaujon (@abeaujon) April 10, 2018
Mark Zuckerberg in a booster seat looks like he’s about to ask the waitress for chicken fingers and apple juice pic.twitter.com/oGA6RkGE4S
— Jules (@Julian_Epp) April 11, 2018
Here’s Sen. Harris questioning Zuckerberg:
Also, Zuckerberg’s notes got exposed during the meeting. TechCrunch has larger text of what was written. Zuckerberg was prepared to defend himself in case he was asked to resign. He wasn’t.
Mark Zuckerberg's notes today, from AP photojournalist Andrew Harnik pic.twitter.com/OXoLnXsg1l
— Andrea Woo | 鄔瑞楓 (@AndreaWoo) April 11, 2018
photos credit: Getty and via Twitter