Mark Zuckerberg gave two rounds of testimony to the US Congress on the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The first was to the US Senate committee on Justice and Commerce, and the second was to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The Facebook CEO faced a series of questions regarding user privacy, on how Facebook tracks users, including those who do not have an account with the social network, and whether it had done enough to warn and protect users in the aftermath of the scandal.
House members also questioned Facebook on whether it was a neutral platform, and if it was suppressing content from the conservatives. Facebook’s role in controlling apps on the platform was also under scrutiny from members of the committee.
Here are the key takeaways from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing with the House Committee:
My mistake, I’m sorry, says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
As with the Senate hearing, Zuckerberg repeated that the recent data leaks were his mistake and apologised for the same. He admitted that the company did not do enough to prevent tools being used for harm. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I am sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and, at the end of the day, I am responsible for what happens here,” he said during his opening remarks.
He added that Facebook has to make sure that people’s connections are positive, and that the developers with whom users share information also need to protect it. He admitted that it would take Facebook some time to work and implement on all the changes needed. Zuckerberg said the company had failed to take the right steps in the Cambridge Analytica incident.
On Facebook tracking logged-off users
The Facebook CEO admitted that the social network does track people who are logged out of Facebook or are not signed in, and those who do not have account. He said there are two seasons for this, namely security and ads. “For security, it’s to make sure that people who are not signed into Facebook can’t scrape people’s public information. Even when you’re not signed in, you can look up the information that people have chosen to make public on their page,” he explained.
Zuckerberg said they do not want someone to be able to go through and download every single public piece of information, which is why they track certain information. This information includes how many pages these users are accessing.
On the ads side of things, Facebook tracks offline users to collect information to ensure ads are more relevant. He also said users can turn off ad targeting from Facebook. He was also asked if the data collected for security purposes is also sold as part of the business model. Zuckerberg did not give confirmation on that, and said he would have to follow up with details later on this topic.
Facebook on EU’s General Data Protection Regulation
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that the company had committed to abiding with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is very strict about consumer data and user privacy. Facebook will make the same settings available across the world as it will for Europe in order to allow users to control their data, according to these rules. “We believe that everyone around the world deserves good privacy controls. We’ve had a lot of these controls in place for years. The GDPR requires us to do a few more things, and we’re going to extend that to the world,” he confirmed.
What is Facebook: A media company, financial institution?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked by Congressman Greg Walden on whether Facebook was a media company and a financial institution as well. He pointed out that Facebook had its own video series, starring Tom Brady, which ran for six episodes and has over 50 million views, which was double the viewership of Oscars.
Zuckerberg disagreed that Facebook was a media company, and said they are a technology company. “The primary thing that we do is to have engineers who write code and build products and services for other people,” he said, though admitting the company does pay to help produce content. He also said he does not consider Facebook to be a financial institution. It should be noted that Messenger in the US does let users make payments.
Facebook does not sell data, this is a ‘misconception’
In both hearings, Zuckerberg emphasised that Facebook does not sell user data. He admitted that the company can do a “better job of explaining how advertising works.” He said it was “a common misperception… that, for some reason, we sell data.” He also admitted that Facebook is limiting a lot of the data they collect and use. He also said that Facebook was changing default settings to protect user privacy. “We’ve changed a lot of the way that our platform works, so, that way, developers can’t get access to as much information,” said Zuckerberg.
Will Facebook try and limit the amount of data they collect?
This was one question to which Zuckerberg did not give a clear answer. He was asked if Facebook would try and minimise collection and use of users’ data, but he did not give a clear yes or no on the subject. He said it was a complex issue, and he could not just give a one-word answer on the same.
On Facebook censoring conservative content: Zuckerberg was asked why Facebook was censoring conservative content. The issue of two bloggers Diamond and Silk also came up, whose pages were blocked as being unsafe. Zuckerberg said the “team made an enforcement error,” in the particular case. He also denied that the recent algorithm changes had promoted liberal content more in news feeds.
Facebook a surveillance organisation?
Zuckerberg denied that the company was surveillance organisation. The Facebook CEO said that he does not know of any surveillance system where people have the option of deleting the data that is being collected. He also denied Facebook was listening to calls of users.
Mark Zuckerberg’s data was also compromised by Cambridge Analytica: The Facebook CEO admitted that his data was included in the data compromised and sold to the malicious third-parties.