Facebook’s Zuckerberg Rehashes Privacy Mea Culpas at Second Congressional Hearing

CEO says he was among the 87 million users whose data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacyFacebook Privacy Scandal Congress, Washington, USA - 11 Apr 2018
Andrew Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suited up for a second day in the D.C. hot seat, repeating apologies to a U.S. House of Representatives committee for the company’s missteps in letting consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly secure a massive trove of user data.

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent [Facebook’s] tools from being used for harm,” Zuckerberg said at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

“It’s gonna take some time to work through all of the changes we need to make, but I’m committed to getting this right,” Zuckerberg added. He also told the House committee that his own personal info was included in the data set that wound up on Cambridge Analytica’s servers.

Zuckerberg’s opening remarks Wednesday morning were virtually identical to his statements during a five-hour slog in front of a Senate joint committee hearing Tuesday.

Facebook investors were cheered by Zuckerberg’s poise in his Senate performance, with the stock closing up 4.5% Tuesday. Shares were down about 0.3% in trading Wednesday at about 10:25 a.m. ET as the CEO testified before the House committee, which began at 10 a.m. [UPDATE: By 11:50 a.m., Facebook’s stock had moved into positive territory, up 0.5%, and at 2:15 p.m. was up 1.7%.]

Zuckerberg again tried to explain actions Facebook is taking in the wake of disclosures that U.K.-based Cambridge Analytica — which worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign — had acquired data on up to 87 million users from a third-party researcher, Aleksandr Kogan. (Cambridge Analytica has said it licensed data on 30 million users and claims it never used the Facebook data for the Trump campaign.)

During the hearing, House reps raised the specter of new regulatory oversight of Facebook, as members of the Senate did a day earlier.

“I think it’s time to ask whether Facebook moved too fast, and broke too many things,” Rep. Greg Walden (D.-Ore.) said in opening remarks. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) called for “comprehensive legislation to prevent incidents like this in the future,” noting Facebook swung into action on Cambridge Analytica only when the scandal was publicly revealed.

Zuckerberg has expressed openness to regulations, but again said any new laws “need to be thought through carefully” and that “the details really matter.” Asked by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) what regulations Zuckerberg would prefer if Facebook were a startup instead of a massive corporation, the exec said new regulations are “inevitable” but agreed that new rules may be easier for large companies to comply with than smaller upstarts.

Walden asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook is a media company, citing among other examples Facebook’s exclusive global rights to 25 Major League Baseball games this season. Zuckerberg reiterated his stance that Facebook is a technology company, but added, “Do we have a responsibility for the content people share on Facebook? I think the answer to that is, yes.”

Pallone asked whether Facebook would change default user settings to provide the maximum level of privacy. “Congressman, this is a complex issue that requires more than a one-word answer,” Zuckerberg responded, pledging to follow up with Pallone’s staff on the question.

At another point, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) likened Facebook’s monitoring capabilities to FBI surveillance under J. Edgar Hoover. “The information you share, you put there… you can delete any of it” or leave Facebook completely, Zuckerberg said. “I know of no surveillance organization that gives people the option to delete the data.”

Zuckerberg also was asked about “fake news” and Facebook’s attempts to thwart foreign influence on U.S. elections. He said it was impossible for Facebook to guarantee it will be able to completely bar bad actors from the platform, as long as Russia and others continue to fund social-media misinformation efforts. “It’s an arms race, but I think we’re making ground,” he said.

Facebook will implement the same user-privacy controls to Americans that it will roll out to comply with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes in effect on May 25, Zuckerberg said, reiterating comments he made last week.

Asked whether Facebook breached its 2011 consent decree with the FTC requiring explicit user consent to share data, Zuckerberg denied that the company had, but said more broadly than following the “letter of the law” the Cambridge Analytica case has been a “breach of trust.”

Zuckerberg also repeated Facebook’s pledge to review “tens of thousands” of apps that had broad access to users’ data (in the same manner Kogan’s personality quiz did) prior to 2015 to determine what info they may still have. He said that audit will take “many months.”

Among other queries lobbed at the CEO, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) asked about MPAA member concerns over rampant content piracy on Facebook. Zuckerberg responded, “I believe that has been an issue for a long time.”

Zuckerberg obviously was coached to say “This is an important issue” in his response to tough questions, something he said numerous times throughout the hearing.

Several Republican representatives — suggesting Facebook has an anti-conservative bias — questioned Zuckerberg about “Diamond and Silk,” the nom-de-internet of pro-Trump sisters Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, who have complained Facebook has limited the distribution of their videos and were told by the company last week their content was deemed “unsafe to the community.” On Wednesday Zuckerberg said that in this case, “our team made an enforcement error, and we have already gotten in touch with them to reverse it.”

“I do worry about the general bias of people in Silicon Valley,” Zuckerberg said, but added that Facebook employs people all over the world.

The full House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing lasted five hours, including two breaks of 10 and 20 minutes each. Zuckerberg appeared voluntarily at the hearing; he wasn’t subpoenaed by the committee.