Data breach by Cambridge Analytica, fake news, Russian interference in 2016 Presidential elections in the U.S., hate speech, and the list goes on. Facebook has failed in preventing these incidents. Among these failures, data privacy was one of the most significant ones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called for an open hearing in front of dozens of senators for this issue. In the hearing on Tuesday, Senators put Zuckerberg through a wringer to which he reacted with calmness and assured policy reforms along with defending the firm from a threat of new legislation. Two senate panels, the commerce and judiciary committees consisting of total 42 senators, grilled Facebook CEO in a four-hour long session.
Zuckerberg, in his practiced, patient, and penitent tone, outlined how the firm failed recently and what efforts it has been taking to prevent them from happening in the future. “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg said. “And that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
Various senators reprimanded Zuckerberg for his company’s failure in keeping privacy intact along with his constant apologies and explanations. “If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix these privacy invasions, then we will,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee.
Several senators interrogated about how private and third-party firms access personal data of users. While some senators asked whether business model of the firm, which earns money by selling online ads based on analysis of user behavior, was flawed. In one of the exchanges, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked Facebook CEO whether he believes in what was written in a 2016 memo by Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth. Facebook VP, in the memo, highlighted that bad outcomes–such as bullying and death–from Facebook’s mission to connect the world were inevitable. He tried to avoid the question, outlining that many people of the company did not agree, to which Graham replied, “If somebody who said this worked for me, I’d fire him.” To answer this reply, Zuckerberg highlighted that it is significant to create a work environment where people can freely speak their minds.
Commenting on the constant apologies, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said later in the hearing, “We’ve seen the apology tours before. . . . I don’t see how you can change your business model unless there are different rules of the road.”
In another exchange, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Zuckerberg about the hotel in which he stayed at Monday night and names of people he messaged during the week, to which he declined to answer. Durbin replied, “I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of quote, ‘connecting people around the world.’”
Many lawmakers, including Republicans and Democrats, have expressed the need for new legislation, fines, or better regulations over data privacy of social media firms. Facebook’s share prices took a plunge as concerns regarding data privacy rose after revelations about how Cambridge Analytica gained access to over 50 million users. However, prices soared during the testimony and closed 4.5 percent at the end of the day.
Though Facebook has made mistakes, and the platform has also been criticized for wasting users’ time and lack of value addition, it is appreciable that Zuckerberg took responsibility for missteps in an open hearing. It was the first congressional hearing after avoiding the face-off for years. In a more than four-hour long session, the CEO did not lose a composure. His cool-minded demeanor helped in settling the crisis that many tech companies in Silicon Valley have been surrounded with, data privacy.