A look at Mark Zuckerberg’s 10 hours in the spotlight

The Cambridge Analytica scandal seems to have done quite a bit of damage to Facebook. Its CEO met with the Senate and the House for more than 10 hours this week, but what did he reveal?
12 April 2018

Press photographers scramble to snap pictures of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his testimony to Senate at Capitol Hill in Washington, US, April 10, 2018. Source: Reuters/Leah Millis

Facebook has been mired in scandal since the “data lapses” with Cambridge Analytica came to light.

This week, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and America’s most loved startup poster boy, appeared before Congress to speak to the Senate on Tuesday and then to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. The hearings went on for an estimated total of 10 hours, during which the once-press shy Facebook CEO found himself forced to field tough queries on his company’s data collection policies.

Given that Facebook was already grilled last month by the Singapore government on the “alleged” misuse of user data by Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 US presidential election, and that its Asia-Pacific Vice-President of Public Policy admitted that the company did have a “moral obligation” to inform users earlier that their data had been breached between 2014 and 2015 by the British firm, you’d expect the social media “startup” to be better prepared.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Not for the second round of questioning, anyway. To Zuckerberg’s credit, however, he was visibly more humble, sincere, and most importantly, apologetic, about data security and the privacy concerns that have arisen.

During his first meeting with Senate, the 33-year-old founder admitted his business was a monopoly – highlighted when Senator Lindsey Graham asked him to name a competitor.

He even echoed Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s comments at her interview with Today’s Savannah Guthrie suggesting that people must expect to pay for privacy and that simply “opting-out” might not be an option.

Zuckerberg’s responses to Senate also suggested that the social media CEO was getting increasingly confident about the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it will transform the moderation tools in the future, cleaning up hate speech and other offensive posts.

Last July, in a Facebook Live session that CNBC reported on, he said: “I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic. I think you can build things and the world gets better. But with AI especially, I am really optimistic.”

His first Congressional Hearing lasted about five hours.

On the second day, the CEO was grilled, for a further five hours, this time by the House – who appeared to have done more of their homework as compared to the Senate who only asked questions about the data policies adopted by Facebook and did not delve too deep to learn how the data is actually used.

At this hearing, Zuckerberg made a very important statement about the company’s compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

For a while now, media coverage at different platforms suggested that the company was resistant to rolling out the same standard of privacy and data security in other parts of the world.

At the hearing, however, Zuckerberg clarified that the company would roll-out GDPR styled protections globally.

Another important revelation that was made at the hearing with the House was the fact that the CEO’s own data was part of the Cambridge Analytica leaks.

And although many people have created memes and jokes about it, the fact is, it does go to show that somewhere down the line, the CEO’s motto “move fast, break things” might be coming back to bite him (now and perhaps in the future).

Finally, despite the fact that Zuckerberg offered responses to questions about how the company tracks people around the web – and why, neither the government nor America’s citizens are satisfied.

The fact that the CEO actually said that he “wasn’t familiar with shadow profiles” went against him as well since he’s known to be hands-on in developing and managing his business.

So, where does that leave the citizens of the world? The billions of users on Facebook and the (nearly) hundred million that were affected?

Well, Facebook has vowed to make privacy policies stronger, offer more protection to users’, and help them better understand their own security settings by walking them through it “inside the app itself”.

Although some say that is too little too late – it just might be what saves the company’s reputation and user base.

Many would argue that the company has managed to integrate itself into society to such an extent that moving (entirely) away from it might never be possible.