Five takeaways from Zuckerberg’s testimony
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg weathered pointed questions about data privacy and his company’s power during 10 hours of congressional testimony Tuesday and Wednesday.
While contrite, Zuckerberg offered a full-throated defense of Facebook and its policies. He insisted that it is doing enough to address concerns about user privacy after the Cambridge Analytica controversy, in which the data of tens of millions of users was used for political targeting without their permission.
Here are five key takeaways.
Zuckerberg keeps his cool — but isn’t winning over everyone
Zuckerberg was widely viewed as holding his own through hours of questioning and flashing cameras.
His careful testimony had a positive impact on Wall Street, as Facebook’s stock rose Tuesday and Wednesday. His tech savvy also played to his advantage, as some lawmakers appeared ill-prepared to delve into complex technology issues.
Zuckerberg garnered praise from some lawmakers.
“You have been respectful of our questions and we appreciate your answers and your candor,” House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in conclusion Wednesday.
But there were also some critical notes.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told the Facebook CEO flatly that his user agreement “sucks.”
“I’m a little disappointed in this hearing today,” he said Tuesday. “I just don’t feel like that we’re connecting.”
Zuckerberg may want to cultivate relationships on Capitol Hill further to win a greater say in any regulation under consideration by Congress.
“You can go back home, spend $10 million on lobbyists and fight us,” Kennedy said Tuesday, “or you can go back home and help us solve this problem.”
Lawmakers might try to regulate Facebook
If the past two days are any indication, momentum for legislation that would curb how Facebook can use the data of its users is building.
Privacy advocates have been urging lawmakers to look to Europe for a roadmap. Next month, the EU will implement a sweeping new privacy law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that will require internet companies to offer more privacy settings, including the ability to offer and revoke consent to websites for the use of personal data.
It’s unclear whether Congress is willing to go that far, but this week’s hearings suggest lawmakers are cool to letting companies police themselves.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, laid the blame for the data scandal on Wednesday not with Zuckerberg, but with GOP colleagues who didn’t move on data legislation after previous privacy breaches.
“We need comprehensive privacy and data security legislation,” Pallone said. “We need baseline protections that stretch from internet service providers to data brokers to app developers and to anyone else who makes a living off our data.”
Zuckerberg left himself some wiggle room
Zuckerberg was deliberately evasive with some of his answers, signaling an openness to concerns but stopping short of explicit support for specific privacy legislation.
“I think that it is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation,” Zuckerberg said Wednesday. “I also think that you have to be careful about what regulation you put in place.”
When asked to endorse specific proposals, Zuckerberg often resorted to telling lawmakers that his “team” would look into the details.
“The details matter and I look forward to having our team work with you on fleshing that out,” Zuckerberg told Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday.
Some grew visibly frustrated with Zuckerberg’s noncommittal answers.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) accused him of “filibustering” on Wednesday, before quizzing Zuckerberg on whether he would support legislation placing restrictions on sharing browsing history.
Zuckerberg declined, telling her he was not “directly familiar” with the details of the bill.
“Let’s get familiar with the details,” Blackburn said. “This is only thirteen pages.”
Concerns are mounting over Facebook ‘monopoly’
Zuckerberg faced bipartisan pressure over Facebook’s market power, with some suggesting that the company is a monopoly.
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) on Wednesday compared Facebook to Standard Oil and Ma Bell, companies that grew so large and dominant that regulators broke them up.
“What happened is policymakers had to step in and reestablish the balance between those folks and everyday Americans,” Flores told Zuckerberg.
On Tuesday, Zuckerberg prompted laughs during the Senate hearing after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked if Facebook is a monopoly.
“It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg responded, saying that Facebook competes with a lot of social media companies.
Graham did not seem convinced, arguing that other social media companies don’t fill the same role as Facebook. Graham likened the lack of competition to car options: if he was unhappy with his Ford, he could switch to a Chevy, but he didn’t see a similar alternative for Facebook.
“Here’s the question that all of us got to answer: What do we tell our constituents, given what’s happened here, why we should let you self-regulate?” Graham asked.
FTC investigation could be bad for Facebook
Lawmakers of both parties repeatedly brought up Facebook’s 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission and the agency’s investigation into whether the Cambridge scandal breached the settlement.
“I think it may have violated the agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, and I’m sure that will be determined in the future,” Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) told the Facebook CEO.
Facebook entered into the agreement with regulators to settle previous charges of privacy violations. Under the settlement’s terms, Facebook agreed to not misrepresent to users what their data was being used for. It also must submit to regular privacy audits for 20 years.
Zuckerberg told the Senate on Tuesday that Facebook had not disclosed the Cambridge Analytica incident to privacy auditors or the FTC.
“We considered it a closed case,” Zuckerberg told Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “In retrospect, that was a mistake.”
However, Zuckerberg maintains that Facebook did not violate the agreement. If the FTC does find a violation it could theoretically impose a fine of more than $1 trillion. While it’s unlikely that Facebook would be hit with such a massive sum, it has plenty of reason to worry about the probe.