Right Now Zuckerberg is testifying in front of the House where he faces a second day of grilling by lawmakers.
Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder and chief executive of Facebook, is back on Capitol Hill for a second day of congressional testimony over his company’s handling of user data.
Mr. Zuckerberg, wearing a dark suit with black tie, was accompanied by Facebook’s top legal and policy staff. Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, and Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy, resumed their seats behind Mr. Zuckerberg.
His appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee comes less than 24 hours after a nearly five-hour grilling in the Senate, where lawmakers attacked Facebook for failing to protect its users’ data and its inability to spot or stop Russia’s use of the platform to try to interfere in the 2016 United States presidential election. Several senators on both sides of the aisle raised the prospect of stricter government regulation of Facebook and suggested the tech company might have become a monopoly.
Mr. Zuckerberg, who spent weeks preparing for the hearings, admitted he had made mistakes and accepted responsibility, but that did little to mollify some senators, like Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who said Facebook needed stricter oversight.
House lawmakers began their hearing with a similar theme: That Facebook has grown too big and too powerful and may need more government regulation.
Like Tuesday’s hearing, Wednesday’s hearing is also a packed house, with Mr. Zuckerberg seated at a long table, flanked by advisers, with an overflow crowd filling up the hallway outside. And, like Tuesday, Mr. Zuckerberg repeated his same opening testimony, which lawmakers had released earlier this week.
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.”
Representative Frank Pallone, 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 Bobby 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?”
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..
“Most Americans have no idea what they are signing up for because Facebook’s terms of service are beyond comprehension,” Mr. Graham said in a statement after the hearing.
He called Facebook a “virtual monopoly” and said “continued self-regulation is not the right answer when it comes to dealing with the abuses we have seen on Facebook.”
Three senators introduced privacy legislation on Tuesday that would require users’ permission to collect and share their data.
Mr. Zuckerberg repeatedly said he was open to regulations but that it would have to be the “right” regulations with the right details. On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg will most likely be asked specifically to agree to privacy legislation that requires permission for data collection.
Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s election interference
Senators 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. Zuckerberg did not admit that the company explicitly decided to withhold that information from consumers, but he said the company made a mistake in not telling users.
Expect more questions on the Cambridge Analytica episode that could inform the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation of the episode as well as provide Democrats with more ammunition about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
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.
Mr. Zuckerberg will confront more questions about how the company can determine what type of content should be published on its site but not define itself as a media company.
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.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, grilled Mr. Zuckerberg on allegations that Facebook had censored content from Trump supporters and conservatives.
And Democrats expressed concerns about the inflammatory stories that were published on the platform by the Internet Research Agency, a private company with Kremlin ties.
How Facebook Works
Mr. 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.
The Senate hearing made clear that lawmakers aren’t quite sure what Facebook’s business model is or how it works, including what the difference is between selling user data to advertisers and allowing advertisers to target ads to an aggregated slice of Facebook users.
The technological gap between Silicon Valley and Washington was apparent when Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican of Mississippi, asked about internet regulation.
Mr. Zuckerberg explained that when thinking about regulations, government officials need to differentiate between internet companies like his and broadband providers, the companies that build and run the “pipes” that carry internet traffic, like AT&T and Comcast.
The difference is at the heart of net neutrality, a hotly debated regulation that was overturned last year. The rules prevent internet service providers from favoring the flow of all internet content through their pipes.
“I think in general the expectations that people have of the pipes are somewhat different from the platforms,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.
“When you say pipes, you mean?” Mr. Wicker asked.