Lawmakers Grill Mark Zuckerberg Over Facebook: Live Coverage

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• While Tuesday’s Senate hearing contained tough questions, the lawmakers were generally deferential to Mr. Zuckerberg. That is less the case in the House, where lawmakers have repeatedly interrupted Mr. Zuckerberg and chided him for not answering questions to their satisfaction.

• Mr. Zuckerberg, wearing a blue suit and tie, has remained calm and respectful in answering the questions. However, he has more frequently told lawmakers he is unsure what their question means when being asked to give direct answer.

California Democrat Anna Eshoo asked Mr. Zuckerberg bluntly: “Are you willing to change your business model to protect users’ privacy?”

“Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

• Mr. Zuckerberg 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Video

Facebook’s ‘User Agreement Sucks,’ Senator Says. We Explore.

A Facebook leak allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain the data of 87 million users, and has led to serious pushback for Mark Zuckerberg, including from Senator John Kennedy, who told the chief executive his company’s user agreement “sucks.”

By SHEERA FRENKEL and GRANT GOLD on Publish Date April 11, 2018. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

Europe’s Privacy Laws 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, Rep. 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.

Mr. Green also asked Mr. Zuckerberg if Facebook planned to comply with the provision in the European law that allows individuals to obtain a copy of the data companies hold about them. That data would include both the messages, posts and photos that an individual posted as well as details a company may have collected about them, European regulators said.

Facebook currently allows users to download a copy of their personal data like their messages, likes and posts.

But Rep. 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.

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. Zuckerberg on Tuesday 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.

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.

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.”

After Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington asked about a recent ad from a Catholic university featuring an image of Jesus on a cross, which Facebook briefly rejected before approving, Mr. Zuckerberg cautioned against overgeneralization.

“I wouldn’t extrapolate from a few examples that the overall system is biased,” Mr. Zuckerberg responded.

When he offered to explain changes made to Facebook’s algorithms, Ms. McMoriss Rodgers opted to move on to her next question.

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.

Zuckerberg faces a different tone in the House than he did in the Senate.

Finger-pointing, accusations of filibustering, interrupting the witness and weariness over past apologies: Mr. Zuckerberg is facing a more hostile crowd in his second day of hearings.

The feeling is bipartisan.

“I can’t let you filibuster,” said Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, interrupting Mr. Zuckerberg’s answer to her question about where privacy ranks in priorities at Facebook.

Ms. Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, used a sizable chunk of her limited speaking time to read out a list of Mr. Zuckerberg’s past apologies.

The combative questioning is different from the Senate, where lawmakers pressed Mr. Zuckerberg but generally refrained from trying to embarrass or accuse him of evading their answers.

Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland cut off Mr. Zuckerberg several times as he tried to answer a question about Facebook employees who sit with political campaigns as “embeds” and try to sell them advertising.

How Facebook works

Mr. Walden 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.

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