This week, members of Congress grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about a data privacy scandal where millions of Facebook users data were compromised by a political consultant firm. Here's some of back and forth between Zuckerberg and Florida’s U.S. Senators and Representatives.
During the two-day hearing, members of the U.S. House and Senate peppered Zuckerberg with questions about Facebook from data collection to privacy concerns.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) asked Zuckerberg about Facebook ads—particularly ones that may encourage opioid abuse.
“This is bad stuff, Mr. Zuckerberg, with regard to the illegal online pharmacies,” Bilirakis said. “When are those ads...I mean, when are you going to take those off? I think we need an answer to that. I think they need to get off — we need to get these off as soon as possible. Can you give us an answer? A clear answer as to when these pharmacies — we have an epidemic here with regard to the opioids. I think we're owed a clear answer. A definitive answer as to when these ads will be offline.
“Congressman, if people flag those ads for us, we will take them down now,” he said.
Bilirakis and Zuckerberg then went into a back and forth about the flagging of ads, with Zuckerberg promising he wants to look into a more long-term solution to take those ads down.
“What I think really needs to happen here is not just us reviewing content that gets flagged for us,” Zuckerberg said. “We need to be able to build tools that can proactively go out an identify what might be these ads for opioids before people even have to flag them for us to review.”
“I agree,” Bilirakis replied.
Still, Bilirakis, 55, said he appreciates that the social media platform is for people of all ages.
“Listen,” he continued. “My family uses Facebook. My friends, my constituents. We all use Facebook. I use Facebook. It's wonderful for our seniors to connect with our relatives.”
“For all the benefits Facebook has provided in building communities and connecting families, I think a devil's bargain has been struck,” said Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL).
Castor had a lengthy exchange with Zuckerberg about Facebook collecting everyone’s data, including people who don’t have Facebook. Zuckerberg has admitted that Facebook does collect data from non-users for security purposes.
“Facebook now has evolved to a place where you are tracking everyone,” she stated, during the hearing. “You are collecting data on just about everybody. Yes, we understand the Facebook users that proactively sign in are part of that platform, but you're following Facebook users even after they log off of that platform and application, and you are collecting personal information on people who do not even have Facebook accounts. Isn't that right?”
“Congresswoman, I believe…,” Zuckerberg started saying.
“Yes or no,” said Castor.
“Congresswoman, I'm not sure that...I don't know that that's what we're tracking,” he said, before he was cut off again.
And, Florida’s U.S. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson too had privacy concerns. He sat on the Senate committee that grilled Zuckerberg for hours.
“Let me just cut to the chase,” Nelson said. “If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore. That is what we are facing.”
At the crux of the hearings is how 87 million people’s personal data may have been compromised for use by a political research firm called Cambridge Analytica—which Nelson asked Zuckerberg about. He told Zuckerberg that when he’d first heard the breach, he should have let those affected know.
“When we learned in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had bought data from an app developer on Facebook that people had shared it with, we did take action,” said Zuckerberg. “We took down the app, and we demanded that both the app developer and Cambridge Analytica delete and stop using any data that they had. They told us that they did this. In retrospect, it was clearly a mistake to believe them…and we should have followed up and done a full audit then. And that is not a mistake that we will make.”
“Yes, you did that, and you apologized for it,” Nelson replied. “But, you didn't notify them. And, do you think that you have an ethical obligation to notify 87 million Facebook users?”
Zuckerberg could be facing even more questions from the European Union. He’s already admitted that close to three million people who are part of the EU may have also been affected by the data scandal.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.