Today, Mark Zuckerberg is back on the stand in front of a House committee to talk about the recent data and foreign actor controversies. If you want to catch up on all of yesterday’s happenings, you can click this link for a full rundown of the events.
10:00 am Chairman Walden’s statements are poignant and much more specific than yesterday’s. Hopefully these politicians watched yesterday’s hearing so we can avoid a lot of repitition.
Mr Pallone from New Jersey immediately continues the dive into a perceived need for regulation over internet companies. He explicitly mentions the FTC’s inability to ensure that Facebook and other companies like it actually follow the mandates it hands down. Worth noting that the repeal of net neutrality also puts the FTC in charge of policing large swaths of the internet. He’s not asking questions, but this is a very coherent statement of current affairs. The party lines are clearly drawn in this hearing already.
10:10 am Zuckerberg is giving his own opening statement. We heard this yesterday.
Chairman Walden starts his questioning by directly asking Zuckerberg if Facebook is a media company. Zuckerberg says that Facebook is a technology company, even though it pays to create content. He reiterates that the company is responsible for the content on the platform.
Walden’s second question is about whether Facebook is a financial institution because it allows friends to send each other money. Zuckerberg doesn’t think so.
Walden specifically mentions that Facebook doesn’t technically sell data to prevent Zuckerberg from falling into the “we don’t sell data” routine.
Mister Pallone is still eager to inject party politics. He asks if Facebook limits the data it collects, and Zuckerberg says yes. Pallone asks if Facebook will commit to making default user settings such that it minimizes data collection. He wants a yes or no and Zuckerberg won’t commit to one of them. This is tense.
Mister Barton from Texas reminds everyone that Zuckerberg is here because he volunteered. Barton picks up where Ted Cruz left off yesterday asking about conservative groups that he feels were unfairly targeted. Zuckerberg says the account he mentioned was subject to an “enforcement error.” Barton then proposes a total ban on data sharing on users under 18. Zuckerberg points out user controls, but the language is too vague here for this to really mean anything. Barton’s point about having to “work at it,” to make your account private is well-received, though.
Mister Rush picks up the conversation about Facebook’s ability to provide information to organizations that track and profile activists. “Why should users have to opt in” for privacy is the rally cry of this hearing so far and we’re still in the early stages.
Mister Upton asks Zuckerberg what kind of regulatory environment he would want if he was starting a small company to try and compete with Facebook. This is an important note for all of this testimony. Zuckerberg once again says it’s easy for his wealthy company to accommodate lots of regulations, but it could be hard for startups. Upton brings up a very specific ad rejection case for a State Senate candidate and Zuckerberg predictably says he isn’t familiar with the issue.
Ms. Eshoo says that American companies “owe something to America” in light of the misuses of Facebook during the 2016 election. Eshoo asked her constituents for questions to ask during the hearing. She asks a series of yay-or-nay questions, but most of them repeat yesterday’s points. Once again, her overall point is about how hard it is to find controls about data privacy.
She asks Zuckerberg if his personal data was part of the Cambridge Analytica information. He says it was. She asks if Facebook would change its business model to protect privacy. Zuckerberg hedges.
Mister Shimkus asks about Facebook as a platform. He asks who will conduct the audit on third party apps. Zuckerberg says the audit will start internally. If the company detects suspicious activity, it will bring in third-party companies.
Shimkus asks what information Facebook tracks on people who aren’t logged in. Zuckerberg says it’s for security and for ads. They track how many Facebook pages they visit to prevent scraping of public information. He says people can turn off tracking for ad purposes.
Mister Engel from New York asks if Facebook plans to sue Kogan or Cambridge Analytica and Zuckerberg says it’s something they’re “looking into.” Zuck says there were other researchers at Cambridge University who were building similar apps that they’re looking into. Engel gives Zuckerberg the first chance to mention AI by asking if the company has made progress when it comes to preventing foreign influence on elections.
Mister Burgess shows a Dilbert comic. In his last moment, he asks whether Facebook will make the audit data available to the FTC. Zuckerberg says they’re cooperating with the FTC.
Mister Green mentions the GDPR European consumer protections that go into effect in May. This is a much earlier mention than yesterday for a very important point. Zuckerberg says “all the same controls will be available around the world.” Zuckerberg says the standards will go out across the world. This seems like a slightly different answer than he gave yesterday. He says there will be a tool that appears when people sign in.
Zuckerberg says Facebook might update the ability to download user data to comply with the data portability requirements in the GDPR.
Mrs. Blackburn throws out the first Trueman Show reference and asks who “owns the virtual you?” She evokes privacy documents that apply to other industries and talks about The Browser Act from 2017, which outlines privacy rules across the internet. You can read The Browser Act here. It’s similar in tone fo the GDPR.
Ms. DeGette dives immediately into the financials. Zuckerberg says that the Cambridge Analytica scandal hasn’t caused an uptick in users quitting facebook or a reduction of interactions on the platform. She’s pointing out past breaches and Zuckerberg struggles to recall details about the cases.
Mister Scalise asks again about the Diamonds and Silk page that was taken down, using it as a stepping stone into accusing the Facebook algorithm of bias against conservatives. “I wrote algorithms before.”
“There is absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias,” says Zuckerberg. Scalise asks Zuckerberg to look into whether or not there was a bias.
Scalise then asks if Facebook worked with the Obama campaign in 2012. Zuckerberg says no.
Mister Doyle asks if Facebook routinely finds out about violations through the press. Zuckerberg says sometimes they do. Doyle is outright accusing Zuckerberg of attracting developers to the platform at the cost of the users.
Mister Latta asks how many apps Facebook is investigating. Zuckerberg repeats the “tens of thousands” number, saying that it will look at behavior patterns and then move to third party auditors if they find anything suspicious. Offenders will get banned, and they will try to ensure that the data is deleted. Zuckerberg says it will take many months and cost a lot.
Ms. Schakowsky starts her time by reading back Zuckerberg’s apologies in rapid succession. It’s political theater, but it’s effective. She doesn’t think self-regulation works. She asks how long the investigation into the apps will take. Zuckerberg says “many months” and hopefully not years. Zuckerberg doesn’t believe it’s a “large number” of companies that have the Cambridge Analytica data.
Mrs. McMorris Rodgers wants to talk about content. Zuckerberg says Facebook isn’t doing a good enough job of defining community standards, in part because 90 percent of users are outside the US. Her worry is about bias toward conservatives, which is a common platform point with Republican reps.
Mr Butterfield talks about diversity in Facebook and tech in general, which isn’t a topic we’ve heard a lot about today. Butterfield asks Zuckerberg to organize a meeting of tech leaders specifically to talk about the lack of diversity across the board. Zuckerberg says it’s a good idea. Butterfield points out a lack of diversity on the leadership committee.
Mister Harper asks about the difference between the 2012 Obama campaign data usage versus the Cambridge Analytica issue. Harper is mad that people aren’t as outraged about the 2012 issues vs. the 2016 issues.
Ms. Matsui brings up the idea of content ownership that has recurred throughout the testimony. Zuckerberg says that once you share a photo with someone, it belongs to both of you, which is technically wrong from a legal standpoint. They’re on different wavelengths and the answers don’t match up with the questions.
Mister Lance comes back from the break talking about censorship on the platform. He’s a co-sponsor of the Browser Act, which Zuckerberg promises to review. He flat out asks if the Cambridge Analytica scandal is an FTC violation for Facebook. Zuckerberg says he doesn’t, but Lance disagrees. He foreshadows future trials.
Ms. Castor finally asks if Facebook collects data about people who don’t have Facebook accounts. Zuckerberg stumbles hard in his response. This is the worst he has looked. Zuckerberg says that Facebook announced two weeks ago that it won’t interact with data brokers.
Mister Guthrie really dislikes advertising but appreciates that it gives him things for free. Guthrie’s proposal is for ads to work like they do on TV with no targeting. More than a billion people spend more than an hour a day on various Facebook services.
Zuckerberg talks about the deletion process after saying he didn’t know how long it took yesterday. He says a deleted account is immediately gone from public view but takes a while to filter out of Facebook servers.
Mister Sarbanes asks if there were embedded Facebook employees in the Trump and Clinton campaigns, alluding to the huge disparity between the two organizations. The Trump campaign posted 90 times the number of ads. Zuckerberg says that Trump’s campaign didn’t get “special approval rights” for uploading ads in the late days of the election process.
Mister Olson compares Facebook to a Navy ship. He harkens back to experiments Facebook did with users to see how positive and negative posts affects their mood. It happened in 2014. Zuckerberg once again talks about how actively using social media is good, but passively consuming it is bad.
Mister McNerny refers back to his history as a mathematician who created algorithms. He asks if users can download all of their user information, including the tracked information like browsing history. It’s an interesting question. Now he’s asking about GDPR. Zuckerberg says “we’re working on it” when asked if it will be in place in May like in the EU.
Mister McKinley ask if Facebook should be allowed to promote illegal online pharmacies, then outlines some of the statistics about the possible 90,000 outlets for illicit drugs. He shows a screenshot of illegal drugs for sale from last week. I wonder if this is related to Market Place, which no one has mentioned yet. This is one of the first times we’re hearing about AI tools to find these dealers today. Much less of that today than yesterday.
Mister Welch asks a series of yes/no questions about what Zuckerberg believes regarding consumer rights. It’s retreading things we’ve been hearing. Weltch wants to know who has the final say for privacy, the government or private companies. He asks whether Zuckerberg or not will help the committee create legislation to govern privacy. Not much new information here.
Mister Kinzinger asks what information Facebook makes available to foreign state agencies like Russia. Zuckerberg says he has no knowledge of any time Facebook gave information to Russia. Kinzinger says that people have stolen his pictures and data to create fraudulent accounts. Zuckerberg is talking about AI tools again.
Mister Lujan is the first to mention the public information scraping that was possible on Facebook by searching names and phone numbers. He traces the issue back to 2013 and asks why it took until 2018 to turn off the feature. Facebook has detailed profiles of people who have never signed up for Facebook. Zuckerberg says they keep data on those users for security reasons. Can someone who doesn’t have a Facebook account opt out of Facebook’s data collection.
Mister Griffith from Virginia asks about plans for rural broadband plans. Zuckerberg explains Facebook’s fight against Fake news. There are several types of bad actors.
- Spammers don’t have a political motivation, but want clicks to make money so Facebook bans them.
- State actors want to influence elections and Facebook uses AI to analyze their behavior to ban them.
He asks if Zuckerberg has considered something like Underwriters Laboratory, which helps regulate utilities.
Mister Tonko asks about users’ ability to delete information they may not know about. Zuckerberg is cagy about access to information tracked from people who aren’t members of—or at least aren’t using—Facebook. Most of Tonko’s time goes to a prepared statement that retreads a lot of information we’ve already heard.
Mister Bilirakis starts off by saying the online pharmacy ads are “bad stuff.” Zuck says that Facebook will take down illicit ads after they’re flagged by users. He talks about an issue in which one of his constituents had personal information posted on a page including his address. Zuckerberg chalks it up to an enforcement error as he’s done several times so far. He also mentions AI tools if you’re using control + F to count the times.
Ms. Clarke evokes the reported 3,000 Facebook ads that were racist in nature. Zuckerberg reiterates his plan to validate the identity of advertisers to ensure they’re not bad actors.
While Ms. Clarke is speaking, I got a notification about Facebook’s updated terms for Custom Audience ads, as well as changes to its Business Tools, pixels (which are embedded on sites to track information about users), SDKs, and APIs. You can see the changes here.
Mister Johnson from Ohio starts off telling Zuckerberg he’s an American success story. Seems like that exact phrase has shown up a lot. He asks about how Facebook determines the propriety of user content. He mentions AI, then Johnson asks about accountability. He wants to know if anyone has been fired because of it.
Mister Loesback talks about Zuckerberg’s world tour and the time he went to Iowa. Loebsack is back to the issue of accountability. All of this feels like it undermines the FTC, at least a little. A constituent question asks if Facebook could exist without collecting data. Zuckerberg says Facebook could exist without a developer platform, but it couldn’t exist without people putting in their data.
Mister Long asks about Facesmash, which Zuckerberg calls a prank website. It has been gone since 2003. Long says Zuckerberg should get ready for Congress to overreact to these issues. Long takes up the banner for Diamonds and Silk.
Mister Schrader asks about the specifics of Cambridge Analytica deleting data. Schrader wants to ensure that Facebook or the auditors won’t delete Cambridge Analytica data before law enforcement can see it. Zuckerberg says that the UK government is doing its investigation first and the Facebook investigation is on suspension.
Mister Buchson goes back to the idea of Facebook possibly listening to people for information to target ads. Zuckerberg restates that they don’t listen to users in order to target ads. Buchson asks about whether Facebook allows smartphones in its executive sessions.
Mr. Kennedy from Massachusetts asks about the finer points of selling user info versus allowing advertisers to target consumers. Zuckerberg explains that Facebook isn’t giving users data. This has been going on so long that we’re hitting a lot of repetition.
Mister Flores from Texas doesn’t hesitate to say the word “monopoly” which has been sparse during this testimony. He finally asks if technology platforms should be ideologically neutral. Zuckerberg obviously answers yes.
Mister Cardenas from California says it feels like we’ve been here forever. He’s right. He tells Zuckerberg about the news that the CEO of Cambridge Analytica stepped down today. Zuckerberg shrugs it off. Zuckerberg ends with a “broader responsibility” remark that we’re used to hearing by now. Cardenas asks about Facebook’s interaction with The Guardian before the Cambridge Analytica story broke and Zuckerberg says he thought there was a factual error. He doesn’t say specifically what that error was.
Mrs. Brooks from Indiana starts off the post-break session asking about how Facebook prevents terrorist organizations from using the platform to recruit members. Zuckerberg has been proud to say that 99 percent of the terrorism content gets taken off by the AI systems. Zuckerberg also says they have a counter-terrorism team with 200 people working solely on this issue. Brooks points out that Whatsapp (which Facebook owns) is sometimes used by terrorists to communicate because of its encrypted nature.
The weblogs aren’t stored in the information that Facebook users can download. Instead, Facebook stores them temporarily and translates them into advertising categories that users can see when they download their data.
Mister Ruiz from California asks about why Facebook didn’t notify users in 2015 when Cambridge Analytica first broke. Zuckerberg says he wasn’t legally required to disclose it to users, but he should have because it was the right thing to do. Ruiz is hinting at the fact that there need to be stronger rules that make companies protect privacy in specific ways without trusting companies to self-regulate. Ruiz proposes forming an organization like a digital user protection agency.
Mister Mullin from Oklahoma says he assumes everything he does on the internet is tracked. It’s weird that we haven’t heard anything about Facebook’s VPN service, Onavo during all of this. That’s an app that clearly tracks people when they’re not explicitly using Facebook. In fact, we’ve barely heard the name “Instagram” here either.
Mister Peters from California points out the disparity between maximizing ad revenue for shareholders while emphasizing privacy for users. Zuckerberg says that the decisions come down to differences between people on the service. That might make sense without the Cambridge Analytica scandal sharing data that never should have gotten as far as it did. Zuck then says he has to think about what, if anything, GDPR gets wrong about blanket security regulation online.
Mister Hudson from North Carolina points out the importance of a platform like Facebook for members of the military. Zuckerberg says he’s not aware of a specific concern about revealing the location information about military users, which could be dangerous. This isn’t the first time something like this has come up. A few months ago, data from fitness app Strava revealed location and behavior data about military bases.
Mister Collins asks specifically about the 2014 platform shift that now prevents third-party developers from gathering data about friends unless they both authorized the app to do so. Now the politicians are starting to argue amongst themselves, if passive aggressively.
Mister Walberg asks about the bad actors from the platform days. Zuckerberg doesn’t call out specific apps, but says lots of apps were asking for things that they didn’t need to function. Walberg once again evokes the 2012 Obama campaign’s use of the platform to gather data. It has less of a bite after Zuckerberg explicitly said Oabama’s campaign didn’t break any rules.
Mrs. Walters from California digs into the difference between the app platform permissions and the user settings. She asks about whether users should have to understand what they’re giving up when they sign up for a site using the platform. She makes a good point about the UX and the fact that it’s hard to tell what your settings actually are when you’re using Facebook. I wish someone had brought this up earlier because it would be great to hear more questions about it.
Mrs. Dingell is worried that Mark Zuckerberg didn’t know about key facts and court cases regarding the company of which he’s a CEO. She asks how many sites are using “like” buttons, share buttons, and pixels. Zuckerberg doesn’t have that information either. Dingell thinks it’s over 100 million. She suggests that internet services like this should be regulated like clean air and water as time expires.
Mister Costello from Pennsylvania starts in with talk about GDPR. There’s way more talk about this than yesterday. Zuckerberg has been careful to say that the thinks “parts” of the legislation are good. No one has been able to get him to give a flat acceptance, though. Costello asks if Facebook should be able to use facial recognition AI on non-Facebook users. Zuckerberg goes back to the idea of special consent.
Costello specifically asks if Facebook is ever a publisher that’s legally responsible for content on its platform. Zuckerberg says yes if it’s something they have created. Otherwise, its responsibility is to make sure that it’s not harmful.
Mister Carter from Georgia goes back to the issue of illicit drug sales. He goes on to mention that Facebook is one of the biggest contributors to the illegal ivory market. Carter then mentions the Motion Picture Association of America’s claim that piracy on Facebook is hurting its business, which has less bite than the ivory argument. Carter makes it clear that he doesn’t want regulations from a governmental perspective. “I don’t want Congress to have to act.”
Mister Duncan from South Carolina is primarily concerned with free speech. He’s literally waving around a copy of the Constitution. Duncan considers Facebook part of the press, which is a huge conversation.
Mister Cramer is the last speaker of the day and uses his spot to share his fear that Congress will overreact to this situation. Cramer wonders how quickly Facebook would take down drug selling accounts if there was a million dollar penalty for missing it.
It’s over. Now comes the discussion.