Zuckerberg goes to Washington

With Facebook in the hot seat over the recent Cambridge Analytica data breach, we analyze the main talking points of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s first testimony in front of Congress.

Mark Zuckerberg appears to have emerged relatively unscathed from the first of his Congressional appearances over the Cambridge Analytica data breach.

Facing questions from a joint-committee about an incident that compromised the personal information of an estimated 87 million Facebook users, many had feared a further hammering to Facebook’s share price. However, investors were buoyed by what was said during the hearing, with shares in Facebook closing up more than 4.5% by the end of yesterday’s trading.

So what did the CEO of the world’s most influential social media platform say during more than 5 hours of grilling in front of a joint-committee?

Here are the main points:

“I’m Sorry”

Zuckerberg, uncharacteristically dressed in a dark suit and tie, began his testimony with a carefully scripted apology. In this speech, the CEO admitted that the company “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a big mistake.” He also conceded that “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

This was an entirely expected opening from Zuckerberg, his work with expert coaches beforehand clearly focused on making a man so obviously uncomfortable with public speaking seem empathetic and genuinely sorry.

Privacy

One of the main lines of questioning in the session was, unsurprisingly, privacy.

Senator John Kennedy drew laughs from the crowd when he reprimanded Zuckerberg harshly, telling him that his “user agreement sucks” and implying that it was only there to cover the “rear-end” of the company, not inform the user what they were agreeing to.

Another senator elicited nervous laughter from the crowd when he asked if Zuckerberg would “be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night”.

However, more concrete questioning asked whether Facebook had broken a consent decree reached with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011 by deceiving users who believed their information would be kept private. Of course, Zuckerberg claimed that he had complied with the F.T.C. agreement—the breaking of which would make Facebook liable for trillions of dollars in penalties.

Interestingly, Zuckerberg was also forced to confront the popular notion that Facebook accesses users’ phone audio in advertising, dismissing it as “a conspiracy theory”.

Foreign Interference

So, how much of a role did Facebook play in the 2016 Presidential Election?

Zuckerberg has been bullheaded in the past about the limited influence Facebook had in the election, but he admitted yesterday that the company’s sluggishness in recognizing Russian interference through its platform was one of his “greatest regrets”.

In questioning by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Zuckerberg said that the company did not actually identify the interference until right around the time of the election.

Going forward, he recognized that 2018 is an important year globally for elections but assured senators that he has more confidence that they will get it right and “protect the integrity” of the elections. This will be achieved by the deployment of new AI tools to detect fake accounts and the addition of 20,000 new employees working on security and content review.

Zuckerberg also made reference to an “arms race” with Russia hackers, indicating that protection against foreign manipulation will be a more sustained effort.

Regulation

“Why should we let you self-regulate?”

This was the question we had all been waiting for, the best indication we might get into the future of the world’s largest social network.

Senator Lindsey Graham questioned whether Facebook had a monopoly, to which Zuckerberg replied that “it certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.” He then went on to claim that he is open to the “right regulation” for companies like Facebook, but warned that the challenge of regulation is that “a larger company like ours has the resources” to comply but smaller companies would not.

Essentially, Zuckerberg claimed that he was all for the right regulation being imposed, he was just looking out for the little guy. How nice.

And So…

Frustratingly, the fact that 44 senators were allotted only 5 minutes each to ask questions meant that there was a distinct lack of opportunity to put the CEO under any real pressure. As a whole though, we reckon that Zucks can chalk his first run out in front of Congress as a win, with the market appearing to agree.

Zuckerberg is set to appear before House Energy and Commerce Committee later today. We’ll keep you posted.

 

UPDATE: Catch up with the main points from Zuckerberg’s second day of testimony here.

 

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