Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg emerged largely unscathed Wednesday from two days of high-stakes hearings that saw US lawmakers grill the billionaire over how the online giant feeds users’ data to advertisers and chide him over privacy rights.
The marathon 10 hours of questioning was one of the biggest spectacles in Congress in recent memory, followed blow by blow on social media under the hashtags #ZuckerBowl and #ZuckUnderOath.
Channelling public anger over data privacy lapses — including most spectacularly the leak of personal information from 87 million Facebook users to a political consultant — lawmakers in both House and Senate raised the spectre of regulations to bring online firms to heel.
The 33-year-old CEO conceded that some regulation of social media companies is “inevitable,” while offering a laundry list of reform pledges at Facebook and vowing to improve privacy and security.
But he stiffly defended Facebook’s business model — specifically the way it uses data and postings from the 2.2 billion users of its free platform — calling it necessary to attract ad revenue the $480 billion company depends on.
In the wake of the massive leak of user information to Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Zuckerberg reiterated that the company had shut down the pipeline that allowed data — including his own — to slip without consent into the hands of third parties.
A day earlier Zuckerberg took personal responsibility for the data breach.
Yet in his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he was also steadfast in arguing that Facebook’s users themselves are choosing to make their data available and that the company’s “opt-in” provisions offered them sufficient control.
“Every time that a person chooses to share something on Facebook, they’re proactively going to the service and choosing that they want to share a photo, write a message to someone.”
“Every time there is a control right there,” Zuckerberg said.