Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made his second appearance in Congress before the United States Congress on Wednesday, and had a five-hour question session with members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In contrast to their kindly confused counterparts in the Senate, members of the House committee demonstrated a better overall command of how Facebook works and how their efforts to develop richly detailed advertising profiles for billions of people have created privacy concerns in all the world.
As yesterday, Facebook sought to promote the steps it has already taken to address the consequences of Cambridge Analytica's data privacy scandal. But House members spent less time at Cambridge Analytica in favor of asking about a wider range of issues, including how Facebook tracks people on the web, privacy protections for minors and Facebook's consent decree with the Commission. Federal Trade.
Here are the seven most notable developments of today's audience.
Facebook has made its clear support so far to bring European privacy protections to people around the world. Facebook has offered mixed messages last week on whether it would comply with the General Data Privacy Regulation of Europe, or GDPR, when it goes into effect in May. Today, Zuckerberg told Congress that yes, he would launch protections in the GDPR style worldwide. "The GDPR has a lot of different important pieces," Zuckerberg told representative Janice Schakowsky (D-IL). "You're offering controls, we're doing that." The second is to seek an affirmative consensus and put a check on the people who guide people through their choices. We are going to do that too. … We will put a tool on top of the applications of the people who will guide them through their configuration ".
Some representatives think that Facebook has violated its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. According to the terms of a consent decree of 2011, Facebook must identify and address emerging threats to user privacy. Representative Robert Latta (R-OH) was one of several members of the House who questioned Zuckerberg about whether Facebook had respected his terms. "Why did the audits you had to file under the FTC consent decree not find these problems?" Latta asked. Zuckerberg replied, to Latta and others, that Facebook believes it has complied with the decree.
Facebook is under pressure to explain how it tracks people on the web and why. Zuckerberg was repeatedly asked on Tuesday about how Facebook collects data from people while surfing the Internet, whether they have Facebook accounts or not. He was also asked how Facebook stores data about what websites people visit, and if it creates so-called "hidden profiles": accounts of people who have not yet created Facebook accounts or have disposed of them.
Zuckerberg offered two explanations for tracking web behavior. One is security: if Facebook did not track people, he said, the platform could not prevent someone from downloading every public Facebook page. "Even if someone is not connected, we track certain information, such as the number of pages accessed, as a security measure," he said. The other, of course, was the advertising orientation. "We can also collect information so that the ads are more relevant and work better on those websites," he said, adding that users can opt out of participating in ad targeting.
But under pressure from Rep. Ben Lujan (D-NM), Zuckerberg said he was not familiar with the "hidden profiles." Nor could it answer how much data Facebook collects in the average user, or non-user.
Zuckerberg's profile was part of the Cambridge Analytica data leak. Among the millions of people whose data was obtained incorrectly by Cambridge Analytica was the CEO himself. That revelation came thanks to a question from Representative Anna Eschoo (D-CA). "Were your data included in the data sold to malicious third parties?" Eshoo asked. "Your personal information?" "Yes," Zuckerberg replied. He did not offer any additional information.
More members of Congress press Facebook to offer additional privacy protections to minors. Yesterday, Zuckerberg asked questions about Messenger Kids, the application of his company to chat with children as young as 6 years old. Today, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) pressured Zuckerberg to create new privacy protections for all minors. "Is there any reason why we can not have only a data exchange policy without data, until you are 18 years old?" Barton asked. "Nobody gets to scratch it, nobody has access to it, it's absolutely, totally private … What's wrong with that?" Zuckerberg would not commit to adding additional privacy protections. "The reality we see is that teens often want to share their opinions publicly," Zuckerberg said, bypassing the question by combining the public publication of users with the collection of data by Facebook.
Conservatives are trying to convert the temporary suspension of a page into a cause celebre. Republican members of the House repeatedly pressed Zuckerberg on the case of Lynnette "Diamond" Hardaway and Rochelle "Silk" Richardson, two pro-Trump vloggers who were told their content was "unsafe for the community." The sisters claimed that Facebook prevented them from notifying their followers about new publications and strangling their reach. (It's not clear how much of that is aimed at vloggers, and how much is related to the recent changes in Facebook's News Feed algorithm.) "Let me tell you something right now," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). "Diamond and silk are not terrorism." Zuckerberg said that the page had been considered unsafe by mistake.
Congress wants Facebook to do more to combat opiate sales online. People sell almost everything with Facebook ads, and that includes opioids. Although drug sales are contrary to Facebook terms, not to mention illegal, several representatives reported that drug dealers were escaping the cracks. "Your platform is still used to bypass the law and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription," said Rep. David McKinley, (R-WV). "With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in doing so, you are hurting people." Zuckerberg said the company would try to improve its content moderation team. "I think there are a number of content areas that we need to do a better surveillance job in our service," he said.
For a complete overview of today's audience, check out our blog live.