If you think Mark Zuckerberg has come out of his testimony rather unscathed, you’re right! He survived! But do you know the actual reasons behind Mark’s escape from the most famed congressional hearing of today? You probably not, So let’s talk about it!
On Tuesday, the head of the largest social networking site in the world was grilled by the senators who tried to make a point about the importance of personal privacy. However, people over social media found the questions asked by senators rather funny than actually investigative. It seemed like senators lack the knowledge of how Internet basically works, making the whole ‘testimony’ thing fall flat since not much was achieved through the hearing.
Facebook’s recent scandal regarding the misuse of data involving Cambridge Analytica was discussed in the hearing. Mark Zuckerberg was called to answer for Facebook‘s actions and how the site had allowed an external firm to misuse millions of people’s worth of data.
The hearing was supposed to question Mr. Zuckerberg how Facebook operates and handles the data of its users and how that data has been misused. The central focus of the hearing was also supposed to be on privacy. However, things took a turn for the worse as none of these questions really got answered as the senators did not seem to have a basic understanding of how the social media platform worked. In fact, the average age of all the senators present was 62.
One of the senators even asked Mark whether Facebook can see and track “emails” send over WhatsApp, which is now owned by Facebook. Firstly, you cannot send “emails” over Whatsapp, it’s a chat application and more importantly, WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption. The encryption is put in place to guarantee no external party, other than the people who are engaged in a chat can track or see what’s going on, not even the owners of the app themselves.
Sen. Schatz: If I email(?) someone over Whatsapp, can facebook see that?
Zuck: Senator no, Whatsapp is encrypted, we can’t see any of that.
Schatz: Yeah but if I message someone about Black Panther on Whatsapp will I get adds about Black Panther On Facebook?
— Paul McLeod (@pdmcleod) April 10, 2018
Some questions were absolutely strange
The questions that were asked really showed how much the senators knew about Facebook or the internet in general. Therefore, the questions really went off topic and nothing substantial was really achieved through the hearing. It’s not uncommon for senators to not know about the topics they’re questioning for, which is why they have people to assist them. Furthermore, these types of hearings exist in order to help them learn more, so that they’re more effective in their policymaking. However, in this case, they didn’t even have a grip on the basics.
One of the most popular questions to come out of the hearing was how Facebook is able to “sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” This question has a simple answer, advertisements. Almost every free-to-use service out there uses ads. That is the reason why the service is free in the first place, otherwise, it’s impossible to sustain a large social network like Facebook and pay all of the people working under them wages if there was no source of income.
In fact, advertisements are very crucial to Facebook’s income, which is why most of our data is collected in the first place. The information collected on users is used to identify each users behavior patterns and all of this information is given to advertisers who can then target people with ads that they would likely click on. That is the fundamental framework Facebook runs upon, which is why Zuckerberg responded to the question by simply saying: “Senator, we run ads”.
One senator, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Zuckerberg if Facebook has a monopoly, claimed Facebook and Twitter to be the same by asking, “Is Twitter the same as what you do?” Of course, Mark replied in the negative.
Sen. Wicker (R-MS) also asked: “There have been reports that Facebook can track users’ internet browsing history even after that user has logged off of the Facebook platform. Can you confirm whether or not this is true?” As for this question, this isn’t just Facebook who’s able to do this, every other site in the world is able to do it through the use of third-party cookies. It’s been explained in great detail here. Many people were quick to comment on the lack of information on the part of the senators:
However, not all the senators were confused, some brought up genuine points as well. Illinois’ Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg whether he would be comfortable with sharing the information of the hotel he stayed in last night. He then went on to ask the Facebook executive whether he’d like to share the names of the people he’s recently chatted with to which Zuckerberg replied: “no”. Durbin then said: “I think that may be what this is all about. Your right to privacy.”
It’s a legitimate point made by Durbin and many others also pressed Zuckerberg on letting Cambridge Analytica access millions of users worth data. He was pressed not because the company got the data or let CA obtain it, but for the fact that Facebook did not even inform its users that their data had been accessed by another external company. The point that was trying to be made was that the users deserve some sort of insight as to what is going on behind the scenes.
However, overall the hearing was a total mess. All of the senators were given only 5 minutes to speak, only a few of which utilized their times effectively. Each of them had a different view of the underlying problem with Facebook which is concerning because a uniform decision to solve a problem can’t be reached this way. Moreover, most of the time was used questioning basic stuff which meant that the real questions weren’t necessarily asked.
In order to regulate Facebook, questions regarding the responsibility the social media company has over the content that’s put on its platform is it fair to know all of its customers, if yes then to which extent and how to regulate the platform in such a way that the people’s collective interests are satisfied would’ve been a much better fit for the hearing. Instead, most of the lawmakers asked simple questions due to their lack of knowledge.
Whether or not Facebook should gather data is up for debate. However, it is true that whenever users click on something, they get a popup which basically takes user consent on their willingness to let Facebook gather their data. However, there’s another clause in there which states that Facebook won’t share your data with anyone else. Therefore, Facebook is to blame for this by letting Cambridge Analytica gain access to data so easily.
Facebook should be responsible for maintaining user privacy and ensuring that whatever data is collected stays inside Facebook. If a breach or unauthorized access does take place, then users should be notified. Take MyFitnessPal for example, they notified all of their users via email AND in-app notifications about the recent security breach that took place. Facebook should do something similar.
Meanwhile, Facebook has started an investigation on all the firms it is linked to, it has also cut off ties with many other firms as well. However, given the way the hearing went, it’s safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg came out of the testimony relatively unscathed.