Law­mak­ers grill Zucker­berg on data and pri­vacy

The Week (US) - - News 5 -

What hap­pened

Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg faced two days of of­ten-com­bat­ive ques­tions on Capi­tol Hill this week, as anger mounted in Wash­ing­ton and around the world over Face­book’s han­dling of users’ data, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that the so­cial net­work could face a reg­u­la­tory crackdown. The 33-year-old bil­lion­aire, ap­pear­ing con­trite and com­posed for his first Wash­ing­ton hear­ing, told House and Se­nate law­mak­ers that it was clear the so­cial net­work had not done enough to pro­tect its 2.2 bil­lion users from pri­vacy abuses and dis­in­for­ma­tion, and pledged to take what­ever steps are nec­es­sary to re­store users’ trust. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Zucker­berg said. “It was my mis­take and I’m sorry.” That did not stop both Democrats and Repub­li­cans from chid­ing Zucker­berg for Face­book’s ex­pan­sive data col­lec­tion. “I think it is time to ask whether Face­book may have moved too fast and bro­ken too many things,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Face­book has faced in­creas­ing scru­tiny for more than a year, af­ter it emerged that Rus­sian agents spread fake news on the plat­form dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. But calls for reg­u­la­tion ramped up sig­nif­i­cantly last month, fol­low­ing re­ports that Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a po­lit­i­cal data firm con­nected to Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign, had im­prop­erly ac­cessed the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of as many as 87 mil­lion users. Last week, Face­book ac­knowl­edged that “ma­li­cious ac­tors” have prob­a­bly scraped data from most of the site’s users. “Given what’s hap­pened here,” Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R-S.C.) asked Zucker­berg, “why should we let you self-reg­u­late?”

What the ed­i­to­ri­als said

“Law­mak­ers need to stop re­ly­ing on in­ter­net com­pa­nies to po­lice them­selves,” said the Los An­ge­les Times. While the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion has au­thor­ity to slap fines on tech firms for un­fair or de­cep­tive pri­vacy prac­tices—Google paid a $22.5 mil­lion penalty in 2012—that isn’t enough to stop abuses by com­pa­nies that are worth hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars. “In­ter­net users should have clear pri­vacy rights un­der fed­eral law that reg­u­la­tors and courts can en­force.” At an ab­so­lute min­i­mum, those should in­clude “the right to know what data is be­ing col­lected about them and to limit its use.” Zucker­berg ap­peared open to new reg­u­la­tions dur­ing his tes­ti­mony—but only be­cause he knows they would ben­e­fit his busi­ness, said the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner. He has sug­gested that so­cial me­dia firms could be com­pelled to use ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tools to scan for and block “hate speech.” That wouldn’t be hard for Face­book, he said re­cently, be­cause it al­ready de­votes 15,000 em­ploy­ees to se­cu­rity. But what about star­tups that could chal­lenge Face­book but “don’t have that sort of staff, or can’t af­ford AI?” Con­ve­niently for Zucker­berg, “they’d be crushed.”

What the colum­nists said

Zucker­berg is fol­low­ing the same PR strat­egy Face­book has used for years, said Zeynep Tufekci in The New York Times. Af­ter each scan­dal—that Face­book tracked users on out­side sites with­out their con­sent or con­ducted psy­cho­log­i­cal tests on un­wit­ting users— Zucker­berg ex­presses re­gret, an­nounces a few mi­nor fixes, and then lobbies against any leg­is­la­tion that ad­dresses “how our data is har­vested, used, and prof­ited from.” Law­mak­ers should ig­nore Zucker­berg’s “earnest-sound­ing prom­ises” and “pass laws that will pro­tect us from what Face­book has un­leashed.”

If only, said Elaina Plott in TheAt­lantic.com. It was de­press­ingly clear that our tech-chal­lenged law­mak­ers are ex­traor­di­nar­ily clue­less about the “ba­sic me­chan­ics” of Face­book, never mind its “cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions.” Sen. Or­rin Hatch ac­tu­ally asked how the free plat­form makes money, to which a be­fud­dled Zucker­berg replied, “Sen­a­tor, we run ads.” The hear­ings were like “a real-world sim­u­la­tion of a com­mon Face­book ex­pe­ri­ence: a grand­par­ent ask­ing a grand­child in all caps how, ex­actly, all this works.”

It’s tempt­ing to treat Zucker­berg as the “mon­ster we can blame” for all the ills of so­cial me­dia, said Stephen Marche in NewYorker .com. But no one re­ally forced us to give up our data for free, just as no one forced us to con­tinue to use plat­forms that have brought un­prece­dented alien­ation, loss of pri­vacy, and dis­in­for­ma­tion. “We blame Zucker­berg be­cause we can’t stand to blame our­selves.” But our anger at him is sim­ply a re­flec­tion of our “deep dis­quiet about the world we are build­ing.”

Face­book’s CEO on Capi­tol Hill: No hoodie here

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