Kailee Missler | Culture Staff Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
On April 10, Mark Zuckerberg took the stand in Congress to answer questions about his multi-billion-dollar company he is the CEO of: Facebook. The two, five-hour long congressional hearings took place back to back, where members of both the House and the Senate asked Zuckerberg hard-hitting questions in regards to data storage, concerns with user privacy, and the Cambridge Analytica breach.
What is Cambridge Analytica?
Cambridge Analytica, hired by Trump campaign in the 2016 election, is firm that specializes in political data. The data firm gained access to nearly 50 million Facebook users’ private information. With that private information, Cambridge Analytica analyzed the data to understand behaviors of users to predict who they would vote for. If the data firm predicted that someone would vote for democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, it influenced Facebook users to vote the other way by ensuring anti-Hillary ads and the infamous “fake news” articles would appear on said persons timeline.
Facebook knew about the alleged breach and did not disclose to their 87 million users that information could have been accessed.
The information that this data firm gained access to included pages that users liked, personal pictures, friend networks and the biggest kicker—the user’s location. Facebook disclosed that “sensitive pieces of information” were not accessed during the breach. However, enabling a data firm company like Cambridge Analytica to access a user’s location without their knowledge raises huge concerns about privacy.
So, how did Mark Zuckerberg end up in a congressional hearing?
The data breach raised monumental concerns about privacy laws and how Facebook did not have more protections against a data breach such as this. Zuckerberg voluntarily attended the congressional hearing, however, there is speculation that if he had not complied, action would have been taken to legally require him. In preparation for the hearing, he hired a team of experts to coach him with speaking and help him convey his message without incriminating Facebook.
Day one was the Senate hearing and according to some critics, was less than beneficial. While some senators asked hard-hitting questions, others demonstrated a lack of understanding about what Facebook even is and what some of their features are.
Senator Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg if he would be willing to share what hotel he was saying at. “Umm,” Zuckerberg started pondering the question with a nervous laugh. “Um … no.” Senator Durbin pressed further and asked if he would be willing to share the names of people he has messaged in the last week. Zuckerberg’s response: “Senator, no. I probably would not choose to do that publicly here.”
On the topic of Facebook being a free entity and always being a free entity, Senator Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg, “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Zuckerberg responded, “Senator, we run ads.”
The second day of the hearings were held by the House. Representative Jan Schakowsky listed off Zuckerberg’s apologies on behalf of Facebook in the past, making a point to show that this is not the first time Facebook has done wrong.
“You have a long history of growth and success, but you also have a long list of apologies. In 2003 it started at Harvard, ‘I apologize for any harm done as a result of my neglect.’ 2006, ‘We really messed this one up.’ 2007, ‘We simply did a bad job. I apologize for it.’ 2010, ‘Sometimes we move too fast.’ 2011, ‘I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes.’ 2017, this is in connection with the Russian manipulation of the election and the data that came from Facebook initially, ‘I ask for forgiveness. I will work to do better.’ So it seems to me that self-regulation, this is proof to me that self-regulation does not work.”
What do students think?
Haley Humbert, a freshman studying Finance and Business Analytics, shares her concern about privacy breaches, “It’s hard to know what that information is being used for and where it’s going to end up. Anyone who uses Facebook should be concerned because that’s their personal information in the hands of data companies were unfamiliar with.”
This lack of understanding about Facebook and other large technology companies is concerning to some. If political officials don’t understand how this entity works, how can they pass legislation about regulations to ensure Facebook and other social media user’s information can be kept safe?