Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder and chief executive of Facebook, faced a much tougher crowd on the House side of Capitol Hill in his second day of congressional testimony.
Over the two days, there were nearly 10 hours of hearings, during which almost 100 lawmakers grilled Mr. Zuckerberg.
While Tuesday’s Senate hearing contained tough questions, the lawmakers were generally deferential to the executive. That was less the case in the House, where lawmakers repeatedly interrupted Mr. Zuckerberg and chided him for not answering questions to their satisfaction.
Lawmakers on both side of the aisle on Wednesday pushed Mr. Zuckerberg on his company’s handling of user data. They were particularly focused on the platform’s privacy settings, which put the onus on users to protect their privacy.
He was also asked about:
• Whether the social network should be regulated.
• What Russians did on Facebook during the 2016 election.
• Whether the social network had a liberal bias.
• What Facebook ultimately is as it has grown into a global behemoth.
Regulating the use of private data
Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon and chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, kicked off the hearing by declaring that “while Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured.”
Mr. Walden floated the prospect of regulation, saying that “I think it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things.”
Later in the hearing, Mr. Zuckerberg said regulation was “inevitable.” But he repeated that the right kind of regulation mattered and he pointed out that some regulation could only solidify the power of a large company like Facebook, which could hurt start-ups.
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On Tuesday, several senators sounded a similar tune, saying Facebook couldn’t be trusted with the vast amounts of data being collected, much of which was being done without users’ full understanding. Three senators introduced privacy legislation that would require users’ permission to collect and share their data.
On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg was asked to agree to privacy legislation that requires permission for data collection. Mr. Zuckerberg demurred and did not express support for any specific legislative proposal.
Representative Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, pressed Mr. Zuckerberg on whether Facebook would agree or refuse to change Facebook’s default settings to minimize collection and use of users’ data.
“This is a complex issue that deserves more than a one word answer,” Mr. Zuckerberg answered.
“That’s disappointing to me,” Mr. Pallone responded.
The concern was echoed by Representative Bobby L. Rush, a Democrat of Illinois, who pointed a finger at Mr. Zuckerberg and asked: “Why is the onus on the user to opt in to privacy and security settings?”
But Mr. Zuckerberg also did not dismiss a proposal from Representative Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from California, to create a digital consumer protection agency that would subject Facebook and its peers to some degree of government involvement.
Mr. Zuckerberg called the idea one “that deserves a lot of consideration” but said that the “details on this really matter.”
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Could Europe’s privacy laws serve as a model?
Last week, Mr. Zuckerberg made a promise. He said that Facebook planned to give users worldwide the same privacy controls required by a tough new data protection law which will go into effect in the European Union next month.
This morning, Representatives Gene Green, a Texas Democrat, and Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, pressed him repeatedly on the issue. And Mr. Zuckerberg repeated his commitment to give all users those controls.
But European regulators and privacy advocates said over the last week that a number of Facebook’s current practices seemed violate the new law, called the General Data Protection Regulation.
For one thing, the European law requires privacy by design and default. European experts said that, in their view, that would require Facebook turn off a number of advertising and privacy settings which are currently set to sharing and instead ask user permission to turn them on.
Mr. Zuckerberg answered the legislators’ questions by saying that the company plans to put a tool “at the top of everyone’s app” where users will be able to make privacy and sharing choices. But the company may not offer affirmative consent — asking users to explicitly opt-in — in every country, depending on legal issues, he said.
Facebook currently allows users to download a copy of their personal data like their messages, likes and posts.
But Mr. Green wanted to know if Facebook would comply with the European law — and extend those protections to users worldwide — by providing individuals with the complete records and profiles the Facebook has compiled on them. That would include any data the company collected about its users by tracking them on other websites, and any data the company bought or acquired from third parties about users, and any categorizations or algorithmic scores Facebook created about users, regulators said.
Mr. Zuckerberg said he believed all of the data is available.
That isn’t true for the moment — at least for a couple of reporters who recently downloaded their Facebook data. But Facebook has about six weeks to figure out how to give users a copy of their algorithmic scores, web tracking data and other records the social network has compiled before the law goes into effect in Europe.
The uses of facial recognition technology
Facial recognition — a technology that scans your face and converts into a mathematical code that can be used to identify you in any other facial photo or video still — is a hot-button topic on both sides of the Atlantic. That is because it involves measuring and collecting data about people’s unique physical attributes.
Facebook uses the technology in a name-tagging feature that can automatically suggest the names of people in users’ photographs. But regulators in Europe have cracked down on Facebook for rolling it out without users’ explicit opt-in consent. And privacy groups in the United States filed a complaint last week to the Federal Trade Commission saying Facebook’s recent expanded use of the technology violated a settlement the company made with the agency in 2011.
When legislators asked him about the tough new European privacy rules today, Mr. Zuckerberg said he was generally concerned that some constraints could restrict companies based in the United States from innovating with technologies like facial recognition — allowing China to take the lead in developing the technology.
Even so, Mr. Zuckerberg said, technologies like face recognition should require permission from users.
For sensitive technologies, he said, “I do think you want a special consent.”
Is Facebook a monopoly?
Mr. Zuckerberg pushed back against suggestions that Facebook is essentially a monopoly, “without any true competitor,” as put by Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan.
Reiterating a point made Tuesday before the Senate, Mr. Zuckerberg said that there is a “lot of competition” that Facebook managers “definitely feel in running the company.” He mentioned, but did not name, eight apps that users rely on to communicate.
He left out that, according to comScore, Facebook owns three of the top ten mobile apps used in the United States: Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram.
Of the remaining seven, Google owns five (YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps, Google Play and Gmail). Only Snapchat and Pandora are independent.
Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s election interference
Lawmakers pressed Mr. Zuckerberg on why Facebook didn’t inform users about the harvesting of user data by Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm with ties to the Trump campaign, in 2015, when it was informed of the data abuse.
Mr. Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat, chided Mr. Zuckerberg for his company’s naïveté in not realizing how Facebook data could be utilized.
“For all the good it brings, Facebook can be a weapon for those, like Russia and Cambridge Analytica, that seek to harm us and hack our democracy,” he said.
Several lawmakers have pointed out to Mr. Zuckerberg, repeatedly, that the Obama campaign used a Facebook app to also scrape data from users and their friends in 2012.
But those lawmakers have failed to mention one very important distinction between the Obama campaign’s app and Cambridge Analytica’s app: The Obama app was actually on Facebook itself, and it was very clear about who and what the data would be used for.
The app used to scrape data for Cambridge Analytica was accessed through a personality questionnaire hosted on a site outside of Facebook, and it appeared to users to be for academic research, not for a political data company owned by a wealthy Republican donor and dedicated to reshaping the American electorate.
Asked whether Facebook will sue the researcher who created the app, Aleksandr Kogan, or Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Zuckerberg said “it’s something we’re looking into.”
Partisan bias and Facebook’s responsibility as a publisher
Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, zeroed in on a line of questioning that his Texas counterpart in the Senate, Ted Cruz, also asked, pressing Mr. Zuckerberg on why Facebook has been allegedly censoring content from conservative organizations and Trump supporters such as Diamond and Silk.
Mr. Barton also asked Mr. Zuckerberg if he would agree that Facebook would work to ensure it is “a neutral public platform,” a question also asked by Mr. Cruz.
“I do agree that we should give people a voice,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.
Republican lawmakers returned several times to the issue of bias on Facebook.
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana questioned whether Facebook’s newsfeed algorithms tamp down conservative news in favor of more left-leaning outlets, to which Mr. Zuckerberg responded that “there is absolutely no directive” to have “any kind of bias in anything we do.”
The proliferation of so-called fake news has put Mr. Zuckerberg in an awkward spot, as the company promises to do a better job of weeding out propaganda and falsehoods but insists it cannot police free speech.
Out in the hall during a break in the hearing, Representative Billy Long, a Republican from Missouri, also expressed frustration about Facebook’s treatment of Diamond and Silk, two pro-Trump video personalities who have complained about being censored by the platform.
“It seems like they take down a lot more conservative content than they do liberal,” he said.
Mr. Long said that he needed more answers about the Diamond and Silk situation, and that he hoped Mr. Zuckerberg could ensure that the company’s thousands of moderators weren’t biased against conservatives.
“He better hope he does it, not us,” Mr. Long added. “Or Congress is going to get involved, and regulate a private industry.”
What kind of company is Facebook?
Mr. Walden of Oregon foreshadowed a line of questioning for Mr. Zuckerberg on how Facebook works and if the social media site has become a publisher or utility service that deserves regulation.
“What exactly is Facebook?” Mr. Walden asked, listing industries like advertising, publishing and even telecom, or “common carrier in the information age.”
The definitions matter. If Facebook is viewed as a telecommunications service that is more like a utility, it may be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. If lawmakers define Facebook as a publisher, it could also fall under regulations at that agency.
“I consider us to be a technology company,” Mr. Zuckerberg answered. “The primary thing we do is have engineers that write code and build services for other people.”
Facebook, he said, is not a software company, despite creating software. It is not an aerospace company, even though it builds planes. It is not a financial institution, although it offers payment tools for users.
“Do we have a responsibility for the content people share on Facebook? I think the answer to that question is yes,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. nytimes