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Mark Zuckerberg Testimony Capitol Hill
Image: AP

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg spent five hours testifying against the senate judiciary and commerce committee at the Capitol Hill. Each senator was on a five-minute clock limit in which they had to squeeze as many words out of the Facebook CEO.

According to NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, Zuckerberg took part in four mock hearings to prepare for his first testimony that happened on April 10. The Facebook CEO is due for another testimony before the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives.

Here are some of the main highlights from Zuckerberg’s testimony:

Zuckerberg on data privacy

In multiple questions, Zuckerberg’s response repeatedly revolved around the fact that people have full control of the data they upload to Facebook, and it is used to optimize ads for them. They can delete it whenever they want.

Zuckerberg said that Facebook only uses people’s data after they agree to the site’s T&C. The Senate made a counter-argument that the language used in such documents are beyond what everyday users can comprehend. Hence, the use of the data is uninformed.

What if the data ends up with a third party

Questions were on the situation when someone off-Facebook gets hold of the data of Facebook users. There have been reports that the data sourced by Cambridge Analytica is still available in Russia.

When asked what measures Facebook has taken if a developer transfers data to a third party. Zuckerberg said that they would require new measures to take action if the data goes outside of their systems.

Referring to the Cambridge Analytica case, he said that people chose to share information with a developer and it worked according to how the system was designed. They may not have imagined the data would end up elsewhere.

Banning Cambridge Analytica

Zuckerberg said that Cambridge Analytica wasn’t on their platform in 2015. They weren’t running ads and had no facebook pages. So, there was nothing to block.

Later, after his break, Zuckerberg came up with a correction that Cambridge Analytica was on Facebook in 2015 and they could have banned them in theory. Not doing so was a big mistake.

Facebook contacted the firm and obtained a legal confirmation stating the data of Facebook users wasn’t used anymore and deleted. Facebook considered the case as closed, but “in retrospect, that was clearly a big mistake,” he said.

“We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our privacy policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.”

We don’t sell data

Zuckerberg said that there is a common misconception that Facebook sells data to advertisers. “What we do is for advertisers to tell us who they want to reach, and then we do the placement. That’s a very fundamental part of how our model works and something that is often misunderstood.”

Should people get a cut in Facebook’s profits

Facebook’s policies say that the users have the complete ownership of their information and the company can use their data.

When asked if people should get a cut when Facebook monetizes their data because they are owners, Zuckerberg didn’t give any direct answer but said that he thinks the control is more “granular”.

People have the control of their data like messages or photos they upload, and they can delete their data whenever they want.

Photo of his hearing talking points

During a break, Zuckerberg allowed an Associated Press photographer to take a picture (via Gizmodo) of his talking points. These had some topics that weren’t asked.

Should Zuckerberg quit?

Facebook CEO was already loaded with a response to the potential calls of his exit from the company.

“Founded Facebook. My decisions. I made mistakes. Big Challenge, but we’ve solved problems before, going to solve this one. Already taking action,” the talking points read.

Should Facebook be broken

He was also prepared if a question comes up about Facebook’s break up, potentially into small businesses.

“US tech companies key asset for America; break up strengthens Chinese companies.”

Regulations

Zuckerberg kept a neutral stance when asked about implementing government regulations for platforms like Facebook. “Well, Senator, my position is not that there should be no regulation,” he said.

“I think the real question, as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be or not.”

You don’t think you have a monopoly?

“It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” he replied.

The CEO was helpless when asked about any specific name that can be considered as Facebook’s biggest competitor. Because, in reality, it’s hard to think of something that can stand in front of Facebook.

“We have a lot of competitors,” he said.

“I’m not sure I can give one, but can I give a bunch?”

He said that he would focus on three categories. Companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft fall under one and we overlap with them in different ways.

A Free Facebook Forever

“There will always be a version of Facebook that is free,” Zuckerberg told the lawmakers.

“It is our mission to try to help connect everyone around the world and to bring the world closer together.”

It goes without saying that ads would fuel the free service, Zuckerberg added the same.

What about his own privacy?

Mark Zuckerberg was unexpectedly asked whether he would be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel where he stayed last night.

After few seconds of pause followed by a chuckle, his answer was, “No”.

“If you messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you have messaged?” the next question fired.

“No. I would probably not choose to do that publically, here.”

Maybe, it was a joke. But it would be ironical if you don’t even want to tell where do you stay, but your company knows everything about the lives of 2 billion people

Zuckerberg on Russian influence

“One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.”

“You know, there are people in Russia whose job it is — is to try to exploit our systems and other internet systems, and other systems, as well.”

“This is an arms race, right? I mean, they’re going to keep on getting better at this, and we need to invest in keeping on getting better at this, too.”

Not only in the US, Facebook is working to protect the integrity of the elections due in other countries including India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, etc.

He told the Congress that Facebook is going to have an army of over 20,000 people by the year for improving security and content review process on the platform. Maybe, in the future, Facebook would come up with AI tools to make the process faster.

At the end of the day

During the Senate committee hearing, Mark Zuckerberg may have paused, shuddered, and pretended clueless sometimes while he remained calmly seated on a pillow to make himself look bigger in front of the paparazzi.

He ran his usual apology tour, took the responsibility of the wrongdoings, a promised to make things better. But at the end of the day, he seemed to have walked out of the Capitol Hill as an undefeated warrior.

The issues raised during the hearing were important but many questions were left unanswered about social media privacy and data. That how far Facebook can go when it comes to data collection. And why they maintained a lack of transparency on how the user data is used and abused.

This is possibly because of the vague questions thrown at him that reflected the lack of knowledge many people on the committee had about Facebook and how it works.

The CEO intelligently made his way out of tough questions on topics like Facebook’s extensive tracking methods and their careless attitude in dealing possibly the biggest failure in the company’s history. He also demonstrated the strength of Facebook’s privacy and security by saying that he and his family use Facebook all the time.

Also Read: Facebook Confirms Cambridge Analytica Had Access To Private Messages Too
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Aditya Tiwari
When he is not writing for Fossbytes, he is busy eating his daily cheat meal and finding content to binge watch. Please feel free to suggest him some good stuff on Netflix. Reach out at aditya[email protected]