Face­book shares surge as US se­na­tors ques­tion Zucker­berg over data breach

Chief ex­ec­u­tive of so­cial me­dia gi­ant de­nies Face­book ‘wil­fully blind’ to abuse Zucker­berg be­fore US se­nate com­mit­tees in the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica con­tro­versy

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS PROPERTY - DO­MINIC COYLE

Face­book shares made their big­gest one-day gain in al­most two years as chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg ap­peared be­fore two US se­nate com­mit­tees in the wake of the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica data breach that has sparked calls for new reg­u­la­tion of the so­cial me­dia gi­ant.

Shares in other me­dia tech com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Twit­ter and Al­pha­bet, also rose strongly as the Face­book founder faced a con­gres­sional in­qui­si­tion for the first time.

Face­book traded more than 5 per cent higher at one point shortly af­ter Mr Zucker­berg took his seat at a ta­ble be­fore the massed ranks of 44 se­na­tors in a rare joint hear­ing be­fore the com­mit­tees on jus­tice and com­merce. They pulled back a lit­tle to close 4.52 per cent up on a re­mark­able day.

In­side the se­nate com­mit­tee room the Face­book co-founder, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive was field­ing the con­cerns of se­na­tors over a range of is­sues from Face­book’s han­dling of al­leged Rus­sian at­tempts at elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence to con­sumer pri­vacy and hate speech.

In one telling ex­change, Mr Zucker­berg was asked by Sen­a­tor Dick Durbin whether he would be com­fort­able “shar­ing with us the name of the ho­tel you stayed in last night?” Af­ter a pause, and some laugh­ter from him­self and the room, Mr Zucker­berg said: “No.”

“If you mes­saged any­one this week, would you share with us the names of the peo­ple you have mes­saged?” Sen­a­tor Durbin re­sponded.

“Sen­a­tor, no, I would prob­a­bly not choose to do that pub­licly here,” Mr Zucker­berg said.

Sen­a­tor Durbin said: “I think that may be what this is all about: your right to pri­vacy, the lim­its of your right to pri­vacy, and how much you give away, in mod­ern Amer­ica, in the name of con­nect­ing peo­ple around the world.”

‘Philo­soph­i­cal shift’

Mr Zucker­berg said the com­pany was at­tempt­ing to change in light of re­cent crit­i­cism, as he at­tempted to fore­stall any strict leg­is­la­tion aimed at the world’s largest so­cial net­work. “We are go­ing through a broad philo­soph­i­cal shift at the com­pany,” he said. But he said he didn’t agree with Sen­a­tor Richard Blu­men­thal that Face­book was “wil­fully blind” to abuse.

On the sub­ject of fake news, Mr Zucker­berg said “one of my great­est re­grets in run­ning the com­pany” was its slow­ness at un­cov­er­ing and act­ing against dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns by Rus­sian trolls dur­ing the US elec­tion. He said the Rus­sian cam­paign of dis­in­for­ma­tion had been dis­cov­ered “right around the time” of the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and said the com­pany had de­vel­oped “new AI tools” to iden­tify fake ac­counts re­spon­si­ble.

He also ad­mit­ted Face­book did not no­tify the US Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion in 2015 when it learned of Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica data har­vest­ing. Asked why the com­pany did not ban Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica at that time, he said the com­pany was not do­ing busi­ness with Face­book in 2015.

Out­side the Capi­tol build­ing, which houses Congress, on­line protest group Avaaz set up 100 life-sized cutouts of Mr Zucker­berg wear­ing T-shirts with the words “Fix Face­book” on them.

Mr Zucker­berg, who founded Face­book in 2004, is fight­ing to demon­strate to crit­ics he is the right per­son to go on lead­ing what has grown into one of the world’s largest com­pa­nies. Face­book faces a grow­ing cri­sis of con­fi­dence among users, ad­ver­tis­ers, em­ploy­ees and in­vestors af­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing up to 87 mil­lion peo­ple had their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion har­vested from the site by Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tancy that has counted US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion cam­paign among its clients.

Zucker­berg dresses up and sticks to script,

As the heat in­creased and pre­pared an­swers were less eas­ily matched to sen­a­to­rial queries, Zucker­berg at times was ob­vi­ously un­com­fort­able if more spon­ta­neous

Wear­ing a suit and Face­book-blue tie rather than his usual jeans, hoodie and train­ers, Face­book chief ex­ec­u­tive and chair­man Mark Zucker­berg wisely de­cided to dress like an adult for his grilling be­fore Congress on Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton DC.

That ap­proach had the ben­e­fit of mak­ing the young bil­lion­aire ap­pear more his own age – early 30s – much bet­ter than look­ing like a je­june re­cent col­lege grad.

But the well-pressed suit seemed to draw forth an equally stiff de­liv­ery, like a stu­dent awk­wardly de­liv­er­ing over-re­hearsed lines in the class play.

Zucker­berg had clearly mem­o­rised the ma­jor­ity of his open­ing state­ment, which stuck nearly word-for-word to the in­tro­duc­tion and con­clu­sion of his for­mal writ­ten state­ment, which he barely glanced at.

Surely, too, he’d prac­tised var­i­ous set re­sponses and smooth, sooth­ing phrases for a range of ex­pected ques­tions.

But as the heat in­creased and pre­pared an­swers were less eas­ily matched to sen­a­to­rial queries, Zucker­berg at times was ob­vi­ously un­com­fort­able, if more spon­ta­neous.

Se­na­tors ini­tially be­gan with ram­bling ques­tions that verged more on state­ments and al­lowed Zucker­berg to be equally dis­cur­sive, with some se­na­tors miss­ing the op­por­tu­nity to probe fur­ther into his replies.

Zucker­berg was also, un­sur­pris­ingly, dis­sem­bling from the start.

Set­ting the au­di­ence

Quizzed by Se­nate ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee chair Chuck Grass­ley about how clearly Face­book users un­der­stood who could ac­cess the in­for­ma­tion they share, he di­verted into a dis­cus­sion about how Face­book gives ev­ery­one the abil­ity to con­trol this by set­ting the au­di­ence for each post.

But of course, the au­di­ence set­ting is not the same as who – other de­vel­op­ers, other com­pa­nies, Face­book it­self – ac­cesses such con­tent now and in the past, and how per­sonal con­tent is parsed, an­a­lysed and used.

Or, as sen­a­tor Bill Nel­son noted, “You con­sider my per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able data the com­pany’s data, not my data.”

Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell in­tro­duced a new di­rec­tion of short, pointed, loaded ques­tions, de­liv­ered with an icy, no-non­sense ex­pres­sion. Was he fa­mil­iar with Palan­tir, the se­cre­tive data anal­y­sis com­pany of Face­book board mem­ber Pe­ter Thiel? Did Palan­tir teach Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica its tac­tics?

Reg­u­la­tory over­sight

And it didn’t get any bet­ter, es­pe­cially from Democrats, but Re­pub­li­cans were no­tably tough, too – a sign that Congress may well, at last, in­tro­duce reg­u­la­tory over­sight for such big data-eat­ing com­pa­nies.

That will worry not just Face­book – even if Zucker­berg said there were some pri­vacy and reg­u­la­tory ap­proaches he’d wel­come – but all of Sil­i­con Val­ley.

Be­cause all of the tech in­dus­try will be on seat’s edge dur­ing the hear­ings Tues­day and Wed­nes­day. This in great part is what this par­tic­u­lar hear­ing is all about – not just tak­ing a bead on Face­book, but fir­ing a shot by Congress across Sil­i­con Val­ley’s bow.

The Val­ley knows well Zucker­berg’s per­for­mance is go­ing to in­flu­ence what hap­pens next. And go­ing on some of his replies so far, they won’t be click­ing “like”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.