IN A TWIST OF IRONY, it turns out Mark Zuckerberg’s own Facebook data was sucked up by Cambridge Analytica.
While being grilled by US senators in the second House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Zuck was asked by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo if the 33-year-old’s data was “included in the data sold to the malicious third parties”, to which Zuckerberg replied with “yes”.
So it looks like even the big boss himself wasn’t immune to the data scraping the Cambridge Analytica scandal threw up.
Other semi-insightful bits and bobs cropped up from the second hearing, as well as a demonstration of Zuckerberg’s ability to essentially deflect the questions thrown at him by senators.
When faced with mounting questions around how Facebook tracks users around the world, as well as the existences of “shadow profiles” – accounts or data points supposedly collected by Facebook for people who have either yet to set up a Facebook profile or deleted one – Zuckerberg denied knowledge of the latter and leant on “security” as the reason for the former.
“In general we collect data on people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes,” Zuck said in reference to the social network’s efforts to stop people from carrying out searches based on public information such as phone numbers.
“Even if someone isn’t logged in, we track certain information, like how many pages they’re accessing, as a security measure,” he said.
And in reference to tracking for targeted advertising, he said: “We may also collect information to make it so that those ads are more relevant and work better on those websites.”
However, New Mexico representative Ben Lujan pushed on with his probing of Zuckerberg, asking if the Facebook founder knew how many data points Facebook collects on non-Facebook users, to which Zuckerberg said he didn’t know and would have his team get back to the congressman.
But Lujan wasn’t impressed: “You’ve said everyone controls their data, but you’re collecting data on people who are not even Facebook users who have never signed a consent, a privacy agreement.”
So after a rather successful first day of Congress probing, Zuckerberg got a little more heat in the second session, and some important questions were raised on just how much data Facebook has on people across the globe.
These questions were not really answered, but it would appear Zuck has a lot of homework to do in order to provide follow-up answers to the senators’ questions.
One of those will be to look at Eshoo’s question regarding how Facebook will tackle its privacy problems in the future. “Are you willing to change your business model to protect users’ privacy?” she quizzed.
In response, Zuckerberg pleaded ignorance, saying: “Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means.”
Either way, it’s likely Facebook will need to keep looking at its data collection policies and how it offers privacy options to its users, especially in light of damning comments from Florida’s democrat representative Kathy Castor.
“A devil’s bargain has been struck. Americans do not like to be manipulated. They do not like to be spied on. Facebook now has evolved to a place where you are tracking everyone,” she said, according to the Guardian.
“You are collecting data on just about everybody … I don’t think the average American really understands that. You’re following Facebook users even after they log off that platform.”
Zuck refuted the characterisation of striking a deal with the devil but failed to properly respond to probes over how the tracking of non-Facebook users worked.
We are aware, however, that Facebook’s Pixel tool can be embedded into a webpage to track visitors’ activity, which Facebook then uses to create a data profile for better targeting adverts based on visitor interests rather than personal data, essentially collecting data about them, not their data. This is a bit of a grey area when it comes to how invasive this could be on people’s online privacy.
At the end of the second session, it appeared that Zuckerberg has less of an easy ride than he had on Tuesday.
But it doesn’t look like any drastic measure will be taken by the US government or regulators to immediately curtail Facebook’s data collection, and we suspect it’ll be business as usual for Facebook, albeit with a few privacy option tweaks and clarity, in the coming months. µ
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