By Alexa Currier:
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg traded in his jeans and t-shirt for a suit and tie this week, testifying at a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees.
Tuesday at 2:15 PM ET marked the opening for Facebook’s hearing in front of Congress. The CEO, who founded the social media network in his dorm room, faced a panel of senators who each took turns asking him questions. They ranged from whether Facebook values users trust, and whether the site will remain free to users or not, to preventing third parties from obtaining private information.
Some of questions asked seemed to make every one in the room feel tense. Zuckerberg had a few moments where he would use humor in his response to ease the tension.
When Zuckerberg was asked by Senator Lindsey Graham if he thinks Facebook is a Monopoly, meaning there is no comparable alternative, Zuckerberg responded by stating that, “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.”
A question that sparked a lot of interest was asked by Senator Kamala Harris, regarding if there was ever a decision made at Facebook, after finding out Cambridge Analytica and other potential third parties had users private information, to inform Facebook users that their information had been sold. Zuckerberg responded to the question by stating “it was a mistake that we did not inform the public, which we did based on false information that we thought that the case had been closed and that the data had been deleted.”
Users all over the globe, including Assumption College students, tuned in to watch the testimony. Professors across campus were showing the testimony in classes, not just because the situation presents as a useful case study, but also because users are worried about what is happening to their information. One student even shared that he could download the information Facebook had on him. The data included everything he has ever posted, the IP addresses from where the posts came from, ads he had clicked on, websites he visited, and more. The data was extensive and moreover, concerning.
The concept of users being charged to use Facebook was also discussed. Senator Orrin Hatch asked if Zuckerberg will hold true to Facebook remaining free for users. Zuckerberg responded with, “there will always be a version of Facebook that is free.” Many people have interpreted this statement and speculated that if a new Business Model comes into play, that an ad-free version of Facebook may be offered.
Zuckerberg was asked by Senator Graham if he embraces regulation. He wanted to know if Zuckerberg feels that there needs to be more or less regulation for individual privacy. Zuckerberg responded with, “I think the real question, as the internet become more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be or not.”
Zuckerberg also testified before a House Committee. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo asked a question that I am sure many were wondering, if Zuckerberg’s own personal information was also shared with malicious third parties. He responded “yes.” However, when asked during the testimony to share his private information, he chose not to do so.
The testimony went on for two long days. There seemed to be clear line of misunderstanding on both sides, the lawmakers may have shown some disconnect regarding their understanding of how Facebook works. In the end, Zuckerberg apologized for the situation and took responsibility for what happened.