Yep, we still doin’ this.Image: Alex Wong/Getty ImagesBy Rachel Kraus2018-04-11 14:00:56 UTC
On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced over five hours of questions from Senators who demonstrated a limited grasp of how the internet works. Today, he’s back on Capitol Hill to dish about the same topics in the House of Representatives.
In a hearing entitled “Facebook: Transparency and Use of Consumer Data,” Zuckerberg will speak with members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Representative Greg Walden (R-OR).
Zuckerberg presented largely the same opening remarks for the House as he did for the Senate, reiterating that Facebook, erm, faces “a number of important issues around privacy, safety, and democracy.”
“It will take some time to work through all of the changes we need to make, but I’m committed to getting it right,” Zuckerberg writes.
Will this be a replay of yesterday’s wide-ranging discussion? Maybe. Is it an exercise in schadenfreude to watch Zuckerberg have to devote his time to grandstanding olds? Yes. Is this still a pivotal moment for the relationship between social media, big data, and democracy. Heck freaking yes. Let’s get this party started.
Yeehaw.Image: Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images10:00 a.m. ET: Chairman Walden kicks things off! He says that the purpose of the hearing is to examine the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as “widen our lens about the fundamental relationship tech companies have with their users.”
10:05 a.m. ET: Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) gives an opening statement, and stresses how Facebook is too easily “weaponized” by foreign actors and individuals, and how irresponsible Facebook and other companies are with its users’ data. He also harangues Republicans for passing too few FTC regulations, which enables what he called the “cycle” of data breaches, press revelations, corporate apologies, and congressional hearings. “If all we do is have a hearing, and then nothing happens, then that’s not accomplishing anything,” he said.
10:10 a.m. ET: Zuck gives his opening statement, reiterating that “we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility” and that he’s very sorry. You can check out his detailed remarks here.
10:16 a.m. ET: Walden zeroes in on what kind of company Facebook is. He specifically focuses on its video productions, asking if Facebook is a “media company,” and its money sending capabilities, asking whether Facebook is a “financial institution.” Zuckerberg answers no to both, that he primarily sees Facebook as a “technology company.” This line of questioning is important for this hearing because in order for the government to be able to regulate Facebook, it has to identify what kind of companies it is, and therefore what laws govern its activities.
10:23 a.m. ET: Mark Zuckerberg won’t commit to Representative Pallone’s request that Facebook make default privacy settings that opt-out of data collections. Zuckerberg claims it’s a complicated issue, but Pallone is Not. Pleased.
10:28 a.m. ET: Zuckerberg looks frustrated with Texas Representative Barton’s question about why teens and adults can’t have the same siloed privacy settings as children, and re-stresses that every time Facebook users share something, they can choose with whom to share it.
10:30 a.m. ET: Representative Rush (D-IL) compares Facebook to state surveillance, and asks “what is the difference between Facebook’s methodology and the American political pariah, J. Edgar Hoover”? Zuckerberg answers “I know of no surveillance organization that gives people the option to delete their information.” Rush doesn’t buy it.
10:37 a.m. ET: A second congressman asks about why a conservative campaign ad was rejected. Clearly none of these people have used the Facebook ad platform before.
10:41 a.m. ET: Under questioning from Rep. Eshoo (D-CA), Mark Zuckerberg admits that his personal data was compromised in the Cambridge Analytica data trove. Zuck: he’s just like us!
10:45 a.m. ET: Zuckerberg gets the opportunity to circle back on an issue he stumbled over in the Senate: user tracking when users aren’t logged in to Facebook. “We track certain information for security reasons, and for ads reasons,” Zuckerberg said. His security explanation did not come off very clearly, but he is more transparent about how the ad network relies upon knowing what people are searching for when they’re off Facebook — though he notes that users can opt out of this.
A Representative used a Dilbert cartoon to contextualize his questioning.11:00 a.m. ET: Rep. Blackburn (R-TN) asks “who owns the virtual you? who owns your presence online?” Zukerberg insists that individuals do, but Blackburn takes the opportunity to promote her new bill, “The Browser Act.” She says that there should be privacy regulations and guidelines similar to HIPAA.
11:10 a.m. ET: Rep. DeGette (D-CO) hammers Zuck about several lawsuits, in which Facebook faced little to no financial penalties. Zuckerberg was unaware of most of the lawsuits, which was not a good look. Rep. DeGette uses the opportunity to advocate for the FTC’s ability to levy financial penalties.
11:15 a.m. ET: Rep. Scalise (R-LA) becomes about the fifth congressperson to ask about the flagging of conservative bloggers “Diamond and Silk’s” content, and ask Zuckerberg about whether the Facebook algorithm contains a political bias. Zuckerberg says “there is absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias.” Scalise provides a handy chart to demonstrate otherwise.
Charts!11:20 a.m. ET: Zuckerberg says that other countries such as China have not used Facebook to influence American politics.
11:35 a.m. ET: Rep. Butterfield (D-NC) demonstrates the power of his glorious mustache and Southern drawl. He asks Zuck about diversity initiatives, including African American representation, and whether Zuckerberg will convene a meeting on diversity with fellow tech industry leaders. Zuckerberg says he thinks it’s a good idea. “We’ve got to concentrate more on board membership for African Americans,” Rep. Butterfield said, emphasizing the need for diverse leadership at Facebook, pointing to its extremely white board.
11:45 a.m. ET: Rep. Matsui (D-CA) makes an interesting point about who really owns user data. She says it’s not just that Facebook utilizes user data to target ads, but it also informs the construction of the Facebook algorithm. Zuckerberg falls back to insisting that Facebook doesn’t sell user data.
12:05 p.m. ET: Rep. Castor (D-FL) serves up a tough round of questioning about the extent of data that Facebook gathers, in a way other Congresspeople haven’t managed to articulate. She points out that Facebook gathers data on people who don’t even have Facebook accounts, which Zuckerberg begrudgingly acknowledges, that Facebook buys data from data brokers, and that Facebook tracks things its users don’t necessarily knowingly submit, such as the location of the devices we use to log in. “I do not believe that the controls, the opaque agreement, are adequate protection,” she said. The exchange nails the fact that Zuckerberg is obfuscating when he says that its users own their own data: users have control over what we share, like photos, but not other data Facebook collects about us.
12:24 p.m. ET: Rep. McNerney (D-CA) doubles down on this point. His staff downloaded their own Facebook data (just like Mashable did), and found that this data does not include what websites they had visited. However, Zuckerberg stated earlier that Facebook does track what websites we visit to inform its ad network. 12:30 p.m. ET: Rep. McKinley (R-WV) criticizes Facebook for helping disseminate, and failing to remove, ads from illegal online pharmacies that advertise opioids — and says Facebook is contributing to the opioid crisis. Zuckerberg says that they’re… working on it.
12:40 p.m. ET: Rep. Luján (D-NM) cuts to the chase regarding of the extent of data that Facebook collects that’s not limited to what users put in their profiles. Zuckerberg squirms and equivocates when Lujan asks “Facebook has detailed profiles on people who have never signed up for facebook, yes or no?” and “Can someone who does not have a Facebook account opt-out of Facebook’s data collection?”
1:00 p.m. ET: Rep. Clarke (D-NY) asks if Facebook’s lack of diversity may have been responsible for missing how Russian actors sowed racial and religious division by “weaponizing” groups like Black Lives Matter. “I’m concerned that there are not eyes that are culturally competent in being able to see how this will impact civil society,” she said. “If everyone in the organization is monolithic, you can miss these things very easily.” Zuckerberg says he doesn’t think that contributed to it. Also, Clarke called him “Mr. Zuckerman.”1:10 p.m. ET: Rep. Long (R-MO) asks Zuckerberg about… wait for it… FACEMASH! Yes, the rep who also said Congress is best at doing “nothing” and “overreacting” asked Zuck about whether Facemash — the app made famous by The Social Network for ranking women by appearance — still exists. Zuck, obviously, said no, and was prettyyy embarrassed when Long described it. Zuck called it a “prank” website which means… he was pranking the women? Anywho, it’s unclear why Long asked. He also, once again, made a big show of haranguing Zuckerberg for the removal of Diamond and Silk content.1:20 p.m. ET: Rep. Bucshon (R-IN) offers up anecdotal evidence that Facebook, or “someone,” as he says, is listening to conversations, in order to market products that people are speaking about. Zuckerberg categorically states that Facebook is not listening to you, but Buchson pushes back. “I’m glad to hear that Facebook isn’t listening, but I’m skeptical that someone isn’t.”
1:30 p.m. ET: New Ginger Kennedy (D-MA) comes in hot with some well-asked questions about what the actual difference is between “not selling” data and providing advertisers with access to Facebook users’ eyeballs, based on data — which is, effectively, a semantic one. “One of the challenges here is that there’s an awful lot of information being collected that people aren’t aware of.”
2:00 p.m. ET: After speaking with his team during a *much needed* break, Zuckerberg clarifies that users cannot, as he said before the break, download their web browsing history. He says it is temporarily collected, deleted, and that what users can download is their advertising history — which reflects their browsing history.
2:25 p.m. ET: Rep. Collins (R-NY) tells Zuck he thinks he’s doing a swell job and doesn’t think there need to be any regulations. COOL.
2:35 p.m. ET: Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) delivered yet another smackdown about “shadow profiles” and Facebook’s ability to gather data on everyone — not just Facebook users — through pixes. Zuckerberg couldn’t answer a list of her (admittedly very granular) questions about the extent of Facebook’s presence across the internet. Incidentally, her husband is the former Congressman John Dingell, who is really, really good at Twitter.
2:40 p.m. ET: Rep. Costello (R-PA) zones in on facial recognition, both for Facebook users and non-Facebook users. “Do you think you should be able to deploy AI on facial recognition for a non-Facebook user?” he asked. Zuckerbeg categorizes facial recognition as a technology for which Facebook should get special consent, but does not acknowledge the non-Facebook user part of the question.
2:45 p.m. ET: The accusation by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) that Facebook is contributing to the extinction of elephants via its role in ivory tracking looks to be just absolutely soul crushing to Zuck.
2:54 p.m. ET: Rep. Cramer (R-ND) rounds out the last line of questioning on the sorts of content that gets flagged. He says he is less concerned with conservative thought than opioid ads, and implores Mark Zuckerberg, “Please, be better than this.” Which is really just what we all want, isn’t it?
That’s all folks! Zuck has survived his hearings on Capitol Hill, and remains intact, if not entirely unscathed. ‘Til next time.