Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he would be “happy” to testify before Congress about Facebook’s data privacy after revelations that it let third parties work with data on millions of its users for years, in potential violation of its own data privacy rules. He’ll have his chance on the week of April 10.
Reuters reports that Zuckerberg will be showing up to testify to the judiciary committee after Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) invited Zuckerberg and the CEOs of Google and Twitter to answer questions regarding data privacy. (According to TheHill.com, “other committees including Senate Commerce and House Energy and Commerce have invited Zuckerberg to testify before their committees as well.”)
The question list keeps growing. Buzzfeed’s scoop this week laid out and laid bare a high-level Facebook executive’s thoughts on the company’s mission of connecting people — no matter the downside, which he wrote in 2016 following a live-streamed shooting death of a Chicago man.
“We connect people. Period. That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it,” VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth wrote.
“So we connect more people,” he wrote in another section of the memo. “That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies.
“Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”
Zuckerberg has since said publicly that he doesn’t agree with Bosworth’s memo. But it is likely to form the basis for many questions the tech executives will be asked when (as Reuters reports) he sits down before the Senate judiciary committee.
They may want to hear more about how affiliates target Facebook users with ads after reading Bloomberg’s piece detailing affiliates’ use of the Facebook network:
“Granted anonymity, affiliates were happy to detail their tricks. They told me that Facebook had revolutionized scamming. The company built tools with its trove of user data that made it the go-to platform for big brands. Affiliates hijacked them. Facebook’s targeting algorithm is so powerful, they said, they don’t need to identify suckers themselves—Facebook does it automatically. And they boasted that Russia’s dezinformatsiya agents were using tactics their community had pioneered.
“The company does make efforts to rein in these scams,” Boomberg’s Justin Fox wrote in a column about the piece — and asking whether a new form of ownership might help Facebook’s PR problems. “But they appear to be under-resourced and more than a little conflicted. Its representatives were so prominent at the affiliate marketers’ event that, as Bloomberg put it, “a newcomer could be forgiven for wondering if it was somehow sponsored by Facebook.”
Fox continues, “Facebook users like you and me are the company’s raw material, not its customers and we are treated accordingly.”
“And while this is to an extent true of lots and lots of other online businesses and some offline ones, at a social network it somehow feels worse. Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Google offers discrete services such as search, maps and email in exchange for its privacy intrusions.
“What Facebook offers users is simply, along with some incidental photo and video storage, connection to other users. The Axios-SurveyMonkey poll released earlier this week that showed Facebook (and rival social network Twitter Inc.) with far lower favorability ratings than Google, Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and even controversy-plagued Uber Technologies Inc. indicates that those users can sense the difference.”
Investors knocked $95 billion (about 18 percent) off its market capitalization in the past week. The Federal Trade Commission confirmed it is probing whether Facebook is observing a 2011 consent agreement that mandated a clear policy of privacy protections with its data.
So some of the questions we may hear Senators ask Zuckerberg, and his counterparts at Google and Twitter for that matter:
What has changed about your policies with your 2.2 billion users’ data in 2012 and now?
How do you oversee how third-party affiliates place advertisements on the platform?
Given how much information you publish across the platform, and the editorial decisions you make about what the users see and don’t see, how are you not a media company?