Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg went in front of Congress to testify about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and discuss the tech platform’s data vulnerabilities.
“I’m glad Mr. Zuckerberg has agreed to face the music. His company has shamelessly shredded the privacy rights of its users,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote in a statement before the event. “This hearing is a good first step towards instituting some vitally necessary rules of the road for Big Tech.”
Zuckerberg fielded questions about Facebook’s business model, how it uses data, and what he plans to do to stop the tide of fake news on the platform. The hearing is the first of two, with the second set to take place later today.
Below, find the six key takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing.
Zuckerberg apologized, a lot
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg told the hearing. “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
The CEO explained that Facebook believed that Cambridge Analytica had deleted the data, saying, “In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it.” He acknowledged that Facebook failed to protect people’s information but stressed that he is “committed to getting this right,” adding that Facebook has updated its security policy in the wake of the scandal.
Congress didn’t really understand how Facebook works
Much of the five-hour-hearing was taken up by Senators asking basic questions about Facebook’s business model and terms of service — how it collects data, how it targets users and what information is available to apps.
At one point the CEO was asked how he runs a free platform, to which he replied, “Senator, we run ads.” Another senator, Brian Schatz, asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook could see the emails he sends on Whatsapp — Whatsapp is owned by Facebook, but users can’t send emails on the messaging app.
He could be considering a paid version of Facebook
Senator Orrin Hatch asked Mark Zuckerberg if he still intended to always keep Facebook free. Zuckerberg replied, “There will always be a version of Facebook that is free,” implying that he is open to the idea of a paid Facebook tier, perhaps one where users can opt-out of ads or data sharing.
Zuckerberg says we’re in an “arms race” with Russia
During the hearing, Zuckerberg revealed that one of his “greatest regrets” was being too slow in identifying Russian intelligence operatives who allegedly used the platform to attempt to manipulate the 2016 U.S. elections.
“There are people in Russia whose job is to exploit our systems,” Zuckerberg said. “This is an arms race. They’re going to keep getting better and we need to invest in making sure we keep getting better at this too.”
Zuckerberg told Congress that Facebook would be dedicating more than 20,000 people by the end of the year to work solely on security and content review.
Zuckerberg then added, “As long as there are people in Russia whose job it is to interfere with elections around the world, this is going to be an ongoing conflict.”
The Congressional hearing made it clear that Facebook is a monopoly
Senator Lindsey Graham asked Zuckerberg to list one direct competitor to Facebook — and Zuckerberg came up short. “If I buy a Ford and it doesn’t work well and I don’t like it, I can buy a Chevy,” Graham said. “If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product that I can go sign up for?”
Zuckerberg listed a range of companies that overlap with what Facebook does — Twitter, Google and Amazon, to name a few — but couldn’t come up with a single company that provided the same service as Facebook, essentially admitting that the website is a monopoly.
Facebook plans to use AI to fix its problems
During the congressional hearing, Zuckerberg made it clear that he believes artificial intelligence could be the key to solving the platform’s problems in the long-term.
Currently, the bulk of Facebook’s screening is done by users flagging posts which are then reviewed, but Zuckerberg believes that the next step will be to have AI bots proactively take down fake news and hate speech without user involvement.
In other news, this phenomenon is why you can’t stop using Facebook, even if you hate it.