Day two of Zuckerberg questioning sees lawmakers get tough

12 Apr 2018

Mark Zuckerberg has been meeting lawmakers in Washington DC. Image: mandritoiu/Shutterstock

Facebook CEO is pushed on privacy, user data and regulation on second day of grilling.

On Tuesday (10 April), Mark Zuckerberg attended a joint hearing of the US Senate judiciary and commerce committees, where discussions involved the basics of Facebook’s business model, general questions about Cambridge Analytica and avoidance of any concrete steps towards government regulation of the platform.

On Wednesday (11 April), the CEO made his second appearance, undergoing a five-hour questioning from energy and commerce committee members. Lawmakers were less deferential to Zuckerberg during this second round of interrogation.

Questions of monopoly

Fred Upton, a representative from Michigan, put it to Zuckerberg that Facebook is essentially a monopoly “without any true competitor”, which the CEO refuted. Zuckerberg mentioned, but did not name, eight other apps people use regularly to communicate.

Facebook is not a media company, according to Zuckerberg

When pressed by a representative to define the type of company Facebook is, Zuckerberg responded: “I consider us to be a technology company. The primary thing we do is have engineers that write code and build services for other people.” This is notable because if it was classed as a telecommunications service or publisher, it could fall under regulation from the FCC.

Partisan bias?

Several Republican representatives followed a similar line of questioning that asked if the company was censoring content from Conservative organisations and supporters of Trump, something that was also tackled in the previous day’s hearing. When questioned about bias, Zuckerberg stood firm, saying that “there is absolutely no directive” to have any sort of bias in anything Facebook does.

Regulation rears its head again

Representative Frank Pallone said he was was “happy to hear Mr Zuckerberg concede that his industry needed to be regulated”. He added: “We need comprehensive privacy and data protection legislation.”

Numerous representatives asked Zuckerberg if he would be enforcing EU GDPR rules for US residents, to which he responded that the company would offer similar ‘controls’.

Representative Diana DeGette said: “I think one of the things that we need to look at in the future, as we work with you and others in the industry, is putting really robust penalties in place in case of improper actions.”

Facebook needs to help in the fight against opioids

There is a growing opioid crisis in the US at present and, although drug sales are against Facebook’s terms – and, of course, against the law – there are drug dealers carrying out transactions using the platform to circumvent detection.

Representative David McKinley addressed the CEO: “With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in so doing, you are hurting people.”

Zuckerberg responded: “I think that there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job policing on our service.”

Cambridge Analytica got Zuckerberg’s data

Representative Anna Eshoo asked Zuckerberg if his information was included in the data sold to “malicious third-parties”. He responded in the affirmative but chose not to give further details.

Can you truly own your digital self?

Zuckerberg avoided directly answering questions about who truly owns the virtual user’s ‘self’, repeatedly stating that all the content someone uploads is theirs to delete at will. This may be true, but the advertising profile the company creates for each user is another (more complex) matter.

He also conceded that Facebook does track browsing information, but argued that most users can comprehend this. He explained that browser tracking was important in terms of security and ad targeting. “Even if someone isn’t logged in, we track certain information, like how many pages they’re accessing, as a security measure.

“We may also collect information to make it so that those ads are more relevant and work better on those websites,” Zuckerberg said, adding that users can opt out of this.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects