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Mark Zuckerberg Hearing - Facebook's Reluctance & The Senate's Ignorance

On Tuesday 10th April, Zuckerberg was in the hot seat. With the purpose to get Facebook’s CEO to finally speak up on matters of Facebook’s data privacy practices in the wake of the company’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal and answer concerns over Facebook’s monopoly power.

But the proceedings became more of a spectacle than an informative hearing - with Zuckerberg deflecting questions with irrelevant answers and creating confusion amongst the senators and representatives. There has been a lot of hype online and in the media on the senate’s lack of understanding on what Facebook is truly capable of, and Zuckerberg’s unwillingness to disclose their data polices.


The Senate's Ignorance

Tuesday’s five-hour hearing revealed many key points, one of those being that most of the US senators don’t really understand Facebook’s business.

One senator from Utah asked:

“If [Facebook will always be free], how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

The line of questioning received a grin from Zuckerberg, to whom responded:

“Senator, we run ads.”

Team Facebook, seated behind Zuckerberg, smirked at the line of questioning which simply cemented the impression that most of the House have no idea on how the business operates – the world’s largest social network who generated almost $13 billion in revenue from ads over the last three months of 2017 alone. Individual senators often had skilfully written questions to ask but failed to then ask the right follow-up questions or understand Zuckerberg’s answers.

For a congress who have considered regulating Facebook, it would be extremely hard for them to develop laws to facilitate the protection of the users and prevent scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica episode from happening again when they don’t understand the platform. And with Facebook showing no signs of becoming less secretive, this tension doesn’t look likely to ease anytime soon.


Zuckerberg’s Reluctance To Share

Ironically, the one thing Zuckerberg does want to talk about is the one thing he won’t do – share. Zuckerberg was well-rehearsed for his leading role and came prepped with a thick binder of notes to help him combat the senators’ questions and to ensure he was prepared for the inevitable hot-button enquiries. He dodged some big questions around data on numerous occasions throughout the hearing. Failing to answer on the two kinds of privacy issues Facebook is facing speculation over: one regarding what users are sharing with other people, and another regarding with what they’re sharing with advertisers and third parties by sharing on Facebook at all.

What he does want to share with us is that there’s a button for you to decide who among your friends and acquaintances sees your photos, uploads and messages on the platform. But what he failed to answer is how or if you can decide what advertisers see when you log in to your account.

The congress repeatedly asked Zuckerberg whether users control how their data is shared with and used by advertisers and other parties. And, as if on que, Zuckerberg firmly remained on script by going back to explaining how users have control over who they share their content with.

Senator Ed Markey asked whether Facebook should, by law, have to get user permission to sell or share user data. To which Zuckerberg responded:

“A hundred billion times a day in our service, when people go to share content, they choose who they want to share it with affirmatively”.

Rep. Joe Barton asked what data Facebook shares with third parties about people under the age of 18, to which Zuckerberg answered:

“Every time that someone chooses to share something on Facebook, you go to the app, right there is says, ‘Who do you want to share with?’”.

Zuckerberg’s answers endlessly rotated back to the ‘share button’ he so greatly wants to talk about.

He clarified on various occasions that Facebook doesn’t sell users’ data, but there was no clarification over whether they make profit from it. It’s true the data isn’t physically for sale, but what is for sale is access to you and access to your Newsfeed – not that Facebook are open enough to state this.

One thing we didn’t expect to get from Zuckerberg was a visual close up his pre-prepared notes. They included a prepped response to questions about complying with the EU’s GDPR rules, to which the notes read “Don’t say we already do what GDPR requires.” Interestingly the notes also revealed a dig at Apple, stating “Lots of stories about apps misusing Apple data, never seen Apple notify people.”

A slip up, or all part of The Zuckerberg Show? I guess we will never know…


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