Facebook CEO didn't have all the an­swers for Congress

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM - By BAR­BARA ORTUTAY and MICHAEL LIEDTKE AP Tech­nol­ogy Writ­ers

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook CEO Mark Zucker­berg of­ten came across as one of the smartest peo­ple in the room as he jousted with U.S. law­mak­ers de­mand­ing to know how and why his com­pany peers into the lives of its 2.2 bil­lion users. But while some ques­tions were ele­men­tary, oth­ers left Zucker­berg un­able to of­fer clear ex­pla­na­tions or spe­cific an­swers.

A se­ries of tough in­quiries about how much per­sonal in­for­ma­tion Facebook vac­u­ums up on and off its so­cial net­work seemed par­tic­u­larly vex­ing for Zucker­berg, who couldn't quan­tify it. He was vague about whether Facebook was a monopoly and whether it would of­fer an ad-free op­tion, as well as about how the com­pany could of­fer the same level of pri­vacy pro­tec­tion to users around the world.

Zucker­berg squirmed when pressed about a 2011 agree­ment with the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion that was de­signed to force Facebook to tighten its pri­vacy con­trols. While main­tain­ing that Facebook had ad­hered to the terms of the set­tle­ment, Zucker­berg re­peat­edly con­ceded that the com­pany still made mis­takes that led to the per­sonal de­tails about 87 mil­lion Facebook users be­ing turned over to Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a data-min­ing firm tied to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's 2016 cam­paign.

Prod­ded by the Cam­bridge scan­dal, the FTC is now in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Facebook vi­o­lated their agree­ment. If Facebook did, it could be fined $40,000 per in­frac­tion.

Law­mak­ers also got Zucker­berg to ac­knowl­edge that gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of Facebook and other in­ter­net com­pa­nies is "in­evitable," although he was vague about what kind of rules he be­lieves are needed or what he would sup­port. He brushed off sug­ges­tions that Facebook has built a monopoly but didn't iden­tify the com­pany's com­peti­tors. In­stead, he as­serted with­out elab­o­rat­ing that "the av­er­age Amer­i­can uses eight dif­fer­ent apps to com­mu­ni­cate with their friends and stay in touch with peo­ple." He didn't men­tion whether those other apps in­cluded Facebook's own Mes­sen­ger, as well as In­sta­gram and What­sApp, which are also both owned by Facebook.

Zucker­berg also didn't rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that Facebook might even­tu­ally of­fer a ver­sion giv­ing peo­ple the op­tion of pay­ing a monthly fee in ex­change for not hav­ing their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion mined for advertising. Sh­eryl Sand­berg, Facebook's chief op­er­at­ing idea, floated the idea in an in­ter­view with NBC be­fore Zucker­berg ap­peared in Congress.

Although Zucker­berg didn't elab­o­rate, the con­cept would be sim­i­lar to what both video-stream­ing ser­vice Hulu and mu­sic-stream­ing ser­vice Spo­tify al­ready do by of­fer­ing a free ver­sion sup­ported by ads or a com­mer­cial-free ver­sion that re­quires a sub­scrip­tion.

Zucker­berg em­pha­sized that Facebook will al­ways of­fer a free ver­sion of its net­work. But Facebook's busi­ness model, as Zucker­berg re­peat­edly ex­plained in his tes­ti­mony, de­pends upon ads shown to peo­ple based on the in­ter­ests they share on the net­work. That strat­egy gen­er­ated $40 bil­lion in ad rev­enue for Facebook last year, help­ing to make it one of the world's most valu­able com­pa­nies just 14 years af­ter Zucker­berg started the busi­ness in his Har­vard dorm room.

While Facebook users can turn off some data col­lec­tion used for advertising, it can't stop track­ing en­tirely.

Zucker­berg also wasn't clear on how the com­pany would of­fer all users pri­vacy pro­tec­tion equal to that of­fered by Euro­pean Union reg­u­la­tions tak­ing ef­fect next month. While he's said he sup­ports the Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion, Facebook prob­a­bly isn't fol­low­ing those rules quite yet. "Don't say we al­ready do what GDPR re­quires," one pas­sage from his cheat sheet re­minded him.

Rep. Steve Scalise, a Repub­li­can from Louisiana who is a former com­puter pro­gram­mer, fo­cused on how ex­ten­sively Facebook tracks on users who aren't logged into the net­work or don't even have an ac­count. Zucker­berg had said that such data is col­lected for "se­cu­rity pur­poses," for ex­am­ple to flag unau­tho­rized users try­ing to log in. Scalise, though, asked if the data is also used as part of Facebook's busi­ness.

Zucker­berg said he be­lieves the com­pany col­lects "dif­fer­ent data for those" and would fol­low up with fur­ther de­tails — a line he fre­quently fell back on when he didn't pro­vide a di­rect an­swer.

The CEO also seemed ig­no­rant of the term "shadow pro­files," a com­monly used term in tech­nol­ogy that refers to data that Facebook col­lects about peo­ple who do not have Facebook pro­files. Rep. Ben Lu­jan, a Demo­crat from New Mex­ico, asked Zucker­berg, "How many data points does Facebook have on each Facebook user?"

Af­ter Zucker­berg said he didn't know, Lu­jan en­light­ened him. "So the av­er­age for non-Facebook plat­forms is 1,500," the con­gress­man said. "It's been re­ported that Facebook has as many as 29,000 data points for an av­er­age Facebook user. You know how many points of data that Facebook has on the av­er­age non-Facebook-user?"

Flum­moxed, Zucker­berg re­sorted to a com­mon re­sponse. "I can have our team get back to you after­wards."

Based on the num­ber of times he gave that an­swer, Zucker­berg and his team have many an­swers yet to pro­vide.

(Photo by Alex Bran­don, AP)

Facebook CEO Mark Zucker­berg tes­ti­fies be­fore a joint hear­ing of the Com­merce and Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tees on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, Tues­day, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to tar­get Amer­i­can vot­ers in the 2016 elec­tion.

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