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Lawmakers Push Zuckerberg On Security, Diversity, Drug Sales On Facebook


After five hours of testimony before a joint session of two Senate committees on Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg returned to the Capitol for a second straight day of grilling — this time before the House.

For another five hours on Wednesday, Zuckerberg took questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Representatives took a generally sharp tone, pushing Zuckerberg to commit to “yes or no” answers and occasionally exclaiming with mock surprise when he protested that he couldn’t answer.

And the questions extended far beyond questions of security, privacy and data-sharing, addressing diversity at Facebook headquarters and whether the company is tacitly allowing illegal drug sales on the platform.

You can watch video of the proceedings above, or on YouTube via PBS. Or, of course, read on for highlights.

The congressional hearings, Zuckerberg’s first, come in the wake of a scandal in which Facebook user data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, a third-party group that assisted the Trump campaign. (Cambridge Analytica saysit did not use the Facebook data in its 2016 election work.)

Zuckerberg has repeatedly apologized for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, while blaming the information-sharing on a researcher who, according to Facebook, violated the platform’s terms of service.

Zuckerberg says he found out that the data was sold to Cambridge Analytica after The Guardian reported on the issue.

“Do you routinely learn about these violations through the press?” Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., asked on Wednesday.

“Sometimes we do,” Zuckerberg said.

He told members of the House that his own data was included in the privacy breach.

A few of the other topics discussed in the hearing:

What is Facebook?

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., committee chairman, noted that Facebook has exclusive broadcasting deals as well as tools that allow people to transfer money.

“Is Facebook a media company?” he asked. “Is Facebook a financial institution?”

Zuckerberg replied: “I consider us to be a technology company because the primary thing that we do is have engineers that write code and build products and services for other people. There are certainly other things that we do do. … We build planes to help connect people, and I don’t consider us to be an aerospace company.”

Facebook has been testing planes that broadcast Internet signals to the ground.

Does Facebook’s data collection amount to surveillance of users?

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., accused Facebook of “the wholesale invasion and manipulation of users’ right to privacy.”

“What is the difference between Facebook’s methodology and the methodology of the American political pariah J. Edgar Hoover?” he asked, referring to the former FBI director.

“The difference is extremely clear, which is that on Facebook you have control over your information,” Zuckerberg said. “The content that you share, you put there. … The information that we collect, you can choose to have us not collect. You can delete any of it, and of course, you can leave Facebook if you want.

“I know of no surveillance organization that gives people the option to delete the data that they have or even know what they’re collecting,” Zuckerberg said.

Do consumers understand what they’ve agreed to as they use Facebook?

Walden asked Zuckerberg, “Did it ever cross your mind that you should be communicating more clearly with users about how Facebook is monetizing their data?”

“I would say that we do try to explain what we do as time goes on,” Zuckerberg said. Every time someone adds content to Facebook, he said, there is “a control right there about who you want to share it with. … I think that in the product that’s quite clear. I do think that we can do a better job of explaining how our advertising works.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, approached the same question from a different angle. “Can the average layperson look at the terms and conditions and make the evaluation: Is this strong enough protection for me to enter into this arrangement?” he asked.

Zuckerberg said, “I think if someone wanted to know that they could, but a lot of people probably just accept terms of service without taking the time to read through it. I view our responsibility not as just legally complying with laying it out, getting that consent, but actually trying to make sure that people understand what’s happening throughout the product.”

He repeatedly said he believes users do understand how their data will be used. Multiple lawmakers expressed skepticism on that point.

The question of financial penalties

In an occasionally tense exchange, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., challenged Zuckerberg over his company’s billions of dollars in profit and what she described as the lack of financial penalty over prior privacy breaches.

She cited two settled class-action lawsuits — Lane v. Facebook, in which users received no compensation, and Fraley v. Facebook, in which users received $15 each. DeGette expressed surprise when Zuckerberg said he was not familiar with the details of the cases.

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