Ques­tions still re­main for Zucker­berg

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS NEWS -

Per­haps it should have been ex­pected with a hear­ing in­volv­ing Face­book that not ev­ery­thing would be as it seemed.

As Mark Zucker­berg be­gan his marathon ses­sions in the US Congress over two days, the re­ac­tion in the mar­kets was over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. Shares in the social media gi­ant jumped 5 per cent at one point and even with a re­treat from those highs, the com­pany recorded its best one-day per­for­mance on the Nas­daq Ex­change in al­most two years.

The gen­eral view in the mar­kets is that Zucker­berg han­dled his in­quisi­tors well. He re­mained calm and mea­sured with very few ex­cep­tions over the two days of ques­tions. He kept the fo­cus of his answers very tight and he bat­ted away any­thing on which he was un­sure for fol­low-up by “his peo­ple”.

Cheer­lead­ers in the tech space were sim­i­larly up­beat, view­ing the Face­book boss as the “winner” in the ex­changes.

Yet it ap­pears that in his main aim – fend­ing off the prospect of in­va­sive reg­u­la­tion – he may have failed. The sec­ond day of hear­ings clar­i­fied some of the ma­jor con­cerns of Congress – the com­pany’s re­peated in­abil­ity to po­lice it­self, its lack of trans­parency and whether users can get more control over their data and how it is (and is not) used.

For all the gen­er­ally po­lite ex­changes in the com­mit­tee room, feed­back after the hear­ings sug­gest that law­mak­ers were not un­duly im­pressed by the Face­book chief and his will­ing­ness to in­sti­tute mean­ing­ful change at his com­pany. That makes a move to some form of reg­u­la­tion down the line more likely.

It prob­a­bly didn’t help that the man whose com­pany as­sumes con­sent for the broad­est use of data came across clearly as far more guarded when it came to his own per­sonal data. Even the dis­clo­sure that his own data may have been taken in the “im­proper” Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica down­loads failed to shift the per­cep­tion that, where Face­book is con­cerned, the rules are what it says the rules are.

Ap­pear­ances can be de­ceiv­ing – and that’s not just limited to the booster seat that raised Mr Zucker­berg’s stature be­fore his in­quisi­tors.

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