Facebook’s share price climbed around five per cent as its founder and CEO survived a grilling by the US Congress over the social network’s handling of personal data, and the Cambridge Analytica affair.
But while Zuckerberg claims the whole situation “hurt” Facebook, there doesn’t seem to have been a mass exodus from the social network, and during the hearing, Facebook’s share price went up, boosting the CEO’s net worth by an estimated $3bn.
Zuckerberg was probed be some 40 senators over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s approach to privacy, its collection and use of data, it’s potential monopoly, and its role in the influence of politics.
Sitting in a chair with what looked like a booster cushion, a mildly robotic-looking Zuckerberg fielded a bevvy of questions with a mix of nerves, pauses and some nonchalance.
“Senator, I think — yes, they did not want their information to be sold to Cambridge Analytica by a developer,” Zuckerberg said in response to a question relating to the data scandal. “That happened, and it happened on our watch.”
He noted that Facebook failed to report the initial illegitimate use of its data by Cambridge Analytica to the US Federal Trade Commission, with Zuck noting the company has “considered it a closed case” but then failed to follow up the claimed deletion of the data.
Zuckerberg came with a stack of notes that photographers managed to snap, which appeared to arm the social network boss with snappy talking points, including a section that addresses some accusations Apple’s Tim Cook fired at Facebook.
Alongside re-used responses from previous press questioning, Zuckerberg schooled some senators on how Facebook works. When Senator Bill Nelson asked a bumbling question about how Facebook funds itself while offering a free service, Zuck grinned and said: “Senator, we run ads.”
He also noted that Facebook doesn’t read WhatsApp messages or sell data on its social platform, but it does use that data to target advertising.
However, Zuckerberg was made to squirm a little at the hearing. When probed on Facebook’s monopoly, Zuckerberg said it “didn’t feel like” the company had one but then struggled to name any direct competitors.
He was also asked if he’d say the name of the hotel he stayed at last night or what messages he sent to people during the week; he said he would do no such thing, but a senator pointed out that it was ironic given Facebook sucks up its users’ location and other personal data.
Any questions Zuckerberg couldn’t fully answer, such as the tracking of people once they log out of Facebook, he said he’d follow up with the senators, which was hardly convincing to onlookers.
But aside from a few moments where the billionaire seemed to reveal his relatively young age and less than slick responses, Zuck and Facebook appeared to come out of the hearing unscathed.
Of course, repeated phrases will do little to placate the paranoia and annoyance from some of Facebook’s biggest critics, many of whom took to Twitter to voice their distaste at the social network and Zuckerberg, without a hint of irony.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden was one vocal critic, seemingly forgetting his entire fame and social network clout has been derived from breaching rules over the handling of private data.
Facebook and Zuckerberg have work to do to make their data and privacy policies clearer and more accessible to their users, as well as better highlight the option for users to delete their data from Facebook’s coffers.
The principle takeaway from the hearing is that while Facebook will do more to help tackle things like fake news and privacy, it’s still a money-making company and if users don’t like it they can leave, though it seems unlikely that many will do so yet.
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