Zuckerberg Survives Testimony, But Will Regulation Follow?

April 10, 2018

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walked into his hearing Tuesday, the tension in the room was palpable.

Right from the start, Senators used their opening statements to take a swing at the founder of the social media giant, showing little patience for what Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called “the apology tour.”

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who is part of the House committee that will question Zuckerberg tomorrow, said this week’s hearings only serve as a reminder that the government seems “to always, continually be fixing the last problem,” rather than getting ahead of new issues.

“I’ve been through many of these hearings on data breaches,” DeGette told Cheddar Tuesday. “The federal sanctions are very, very weak for these companies.

“If we increase the sanctions or the threat of sanctions, would this force companies like Facebook to do more due diligence before the breaches occur?”

Among the highlights of Tuesday’s hearing:

  • For the most part, the line of questioning during the joint Senate committee testimony focused on how much control users have over their own data and how it’s shared with third-party apps.
  • Legislators drilled down on the fact that Facebook’s terms of services are so weighed down by technical, legal language that it’s hard for the average user to wade through. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) went as far as to tell Zuckerberg, “Your user agreement sucks.”
  • Senators also homed in on the question of whether Facebook’s current business model, which relies heavily on monetizing data, means breaches are inevitable. Zuckerberg said there will “always be a version of Facebook that is free.” The key phrase being “a version of.”
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) questioned whether Facebook might be a monopoly, asking about its competitors and suggesting its market dominance makes it incapable of regulating itself. In response, Zuckerberg reiterated his openness to oversight.
  • Another major sticking point was Facebook’s current opt-out model, which leaves it up to the user to control the ads that are targeted to them. Two Senators suggested switching to an opt-in model, which could impact Facebook’s bottom line.

Zuckerberg’s testimony stems from the Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke last month and may have compromised the data of as many as 87 million users.

In the days leading up to the hearing, Facebook announced a slew of changes to its privacy policies and data protections, including reducing the amount of information that app developers have access to and verifying entities that want to run political ads on the platform.

For full interview, click here.