Since the news emerged last month that Cambridge Analytica accessed the personal information of around 87 million people across the world, Facebook has been bombarded with criticism for its poor handling of data privacy on the platform.
Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to a second senate committee hearing on the matter today, and the proceedings revealed some intriguing, and ironic, details.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted in his testimony before the US Senate’s Commerce and Judiciary committee that his personal information was also breached by Cambridge Analytica. On Day 2 of Congressional hearings, Zuckerberg responded to a host of questions related to privacy of users on the platform and what it is doing to limit the type of data they collect and use.
The Facebook CEO said that the onus of data privacy lies on users as the service offers opt-in features for privacy. He reiterated that every time someone wants to share data, it is clear who they are sharing it with.
Zuckerberg clarified that there is a big difference between surveillance and Facebook. “Users can choose to leave Facebook if they want. They can delete their Facebook data when they want to,” he added. Zuckerberg added that Facebook is limiting the type of data that it collects and use. The platform will be changing default settings to be more privacy protective as well. “We have changed a lot of the way our platform works so that developers cannot access so much information,” Zuckerberg said.
However, in response to Senator Frank Pallone’s question whether he could make a commitment to change default settings to minimise collection of user data, Zuckerberg did not give a definitive yes or no answer. “..This is a complicated issue,” he added.
Zuckerberg’s answer was more equivocal. “Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means,” he said.
The House is often more fiery than the Senate, and Wednesday’s hearing in a crowded meeting room of the Rayburn House Office Building was decidedly more heated than the occasionally tedious Senate hearing sixteen hours earlier. At one point, Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, compared Facebook to COINTELPRO, the covert F.B.I. surveillance program that targeted activist groups in the mid-twentieth century, and asked Zuckerberg if a parallel between him and notorious former F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover was warranted.
The heat was, in any event, an effective strategy on the House’s part. Zuckerberg’s testimony revealed more than Tuesday’s meandering conversation. For instance, Zuckerberg said that user interaction on Facebook has not dropped in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He also suggested that legal regulation of Facebook and similar social media platforms was an inevitable outcome of the current scandal.