Mark Zuckerberg faces Congress over Facebook data privacy issues

Tyrone Stewart

Mark Zuckerberg US SenateOn Tuesday (10 April), Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally took on the US Senate in joint committee hearing. Zuckerberg was forced to field a barrage of questions from senators over a gruelling five-hour hearing where topics ranged from Cambridge Analytica to Russian meddling in elections.

What was supposed to be the chance for US lawmakers to crack Zuckerberg and Facebook didn’t quite work out, as the well-coached Facebook CEO rarely deviated from the talking points that he laid out in his prepared testimony.

The largely technologically illiterate group of senators failed to display any form of working knowledge of how social media and the internet works, let alone knowing anything about the inner workings of Facebook in particular.

Questions posed to Zuckerberg by the Senate included asking how the platform makes money and repeatedly asking if Facebook sells people’s data to third parties – in both cases, failing to understand the concept of advertising.

There were, however, a few glimmers intelligence during the hearing – or at least the ability to actually conduct research before questioning someone. Most notably from California Senator Kamala Harris, who grilled Zuckerberg about his failure to address certain questions including Facebook’s decision to not notify users about Cambridge Analytica back in 2015 and how far Facebook tracks users beyond the social network.

One interesting moment occurred when Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked the 33-year-old Facebook CEO if he was willing to share the name of the hotel he was staying at in Washington DC and he would share the names of the people he messaged this week. Zuckerberg responded “no” to both and Durbin used this to make a point stating: “I think that might be what this is all about. Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you'd give away in modern America.”

During the hearing, Zuckerberg also revealed that Facebook may one day introduce an ad-free, paid version saying “certainly we consider ideas like that” but making it clear that “there will always be a version of Facebook that is free” whatever happens.

On top of all that, the hearing saw the Facebook CEO claim to have no knowledge knowledge of Palantir’s involvement with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, reveal that some Facebook employees have been interviewed by the special counsel’s office as part of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, state that the company still was not sure of the full extent of Russia’s  and him being probed about Facebook’s perceived political bias toward right-wing content.  

Overall, the US Senate failed to get any real blows in on Zuckerberg and Facebook and that was largely down to a lack of knowledge about the platform. Despite this, senators have a chance to put on a better showing when the Facebook CEO takes his seat in front of them once again at 10am ET/3pm BST.