The New Zealand Herald

Facebook boss lives

Zuckerberg proves hard to pin down in first day of hearings

- Mary Clare Jalonick

Under fire for the worst privacy debacle in his company’s history, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg batted away often-aggressive questionin­g yesterday from lawmakers who accused him of failing to protect the personal informatio­n of millions of Americans from Russians intent on upsetting the United States election.

During five hours of Senate questionin­g, Zuckerberg apologised several times for Facebook failures, disclosed that his company was “working with” special counsel Robert Mueller in the federal probe of alleged Russian election interferen­ce and said it was working hard to change its own operations after the harvesting of users’ private data by a data-mining company affiliated with Donald Trump’s campaign.

Seemingly unimpresse­d, Republican Senator John Thune said Zuckerberg’s company had a 14-year history of apologisin­g for “ill-advised decisions” related to user privacy. “How is today’s apology different?” Thune asked.

“We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company,” Zuckerberg conceded, and Facebook must work harder at ensuring the tools it creates are used in “good and healthy” ways.

The controvers­y has brought a flood of bad publicity and sent the company’s stock value plunging, but Zuckerberg seemed to achieve a measure of success in countering that: Facebook shares surged 4.5 per cent for the day, the biggest gain in two years.

In all, he skated largely unharmed through his first day of congressio­nal testimony. He was to face House questioner­s today.

The 33-year-old founder of the world’s best-known social media giant appeared in a suit and tie, a departure from the Tshirt he’s famous for wearing in public as well as in private. Even so, his youth cast a sharp contrast with his often-elderly, grey-haired Senate inquisitor­s. And the enormous complexity of the social network he created at times defeated the attempts of legislator­s to hammer him on Facebook’s specific failures and how to fix them.

The stakes are high for both Zuckerberg and his company. Facebook has been reeling from its worst-ever privacy failure following revelation­s last month that the political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which was affiliated with Trump’s 2016 campaign, improperly scooped up data on some 87 million users. Zuckerberg has been on an apology tour for most of the past two weeks, culminatin­g in his congressio­nal appearance yesterday.

Although shaky at times, Zuckerberg seemed to gain confidence as the day progressed. An iconic figure as a billionair­e entreprene­ur who changed the way people around the world relate to each other, he made a point of repeatedly referring back to the Harvard dorm room where he said Facebook was brought to life.

At times, he showed plenty of steel. After a round of aggressive questionin­g about Facebook’s alleged political bias from Senator Ted Cruz, for instance, Zuckerberg grinned and almost chuckled. “That was pretty good,” he said of the exchange.

For the most part, his careful but generally straightfo­rward answers, steeped in the sometimes arcane

 ??  ?? Republican lawmakers (from left) Chuck Grassley and John Thune took the opportunit­y to talk with Mark Zuckerberg
Republican lawmakers (from left) Chuck Grassley and John Thune took the opportunit­y to talk with Mark Zuckerberg

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