Zuckerberg faces tough Senate questions

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Mark Zuckerberg and the company he founded, Facebook, have been under fire for a series of data breaches involving Russian hackers and app developers who spread fake news, fake ads and fake profiles to use member data in an attempt to influence last year’s U.S. election.

It also reported that as many as 80 million accounts were accessed by a data mining company called Cambridge Analytica, which had been hired by the president’s campaign. Facebook says so-called malicious actors have accessed data of just about every Facebook account. That’s 2.2 billion people.

Tuesday, Zuckerberg faced a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees and got an earful.

“It’s not the first time that Facebook has mishandled its users’ information. The FTC found that Facebook’s privacy policies had deceived users in the past. In the present case, we recognized Cambridge Analytica and an app developer lied to consumers and lied to you, to Facebook, but did Facebook watch over the operations? We want to know that. And, why didn’t Facebook notify 87 million users that their personally identifiable information had been taken?” asked Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

Zuckerberg replied, “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. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here. So now, we have to go through all of our relationship with people and make sure we’re taking a broad enough view of our responsibility.”

“Wired magazine recently noted that you have a 14-year history of apologizing for ill-advised decisions regarding user privacy, not unlike the one you made just now during your opening statement. After more than a decade of promises to do better, how is today’s apology different? And, why should we trust Facebook to make the necessary changes to ensure user privacy and give people a clearer picture of your privacy policies?” asked Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.

“What I think we’ve learned now, across a number of issues, not just data privacy, but also fake news, and foreign interference and elections, is that we need to take a more proactive role and a broader view of our responsibility. It’s not enough to just build tools. We need to make sure that they’re used for good. That means that we need to now take a more active view in policing the ecosystem, and in watching and looking out and making sure that all of the members of our community are using these tools in a way that’s going to be good and healthy,” said Zuckerberg.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked a series of questions.

Leahy: I assume Facebook’s been served subpoenas from a special counsel’s office, is that correct?

Zuckerberg: Yes.

Leahy: Have you or anyone at Facebook been interviewed by the special counsel’s office?

Zuckerberg: Yes.

Leahy: Have you been interviewed?

Zuckerberg: I have not.

Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before House committees Wednesday. Facebook’s influence stretches around the world. It’s been used to organize everything from shopping meet ups to anti-government demonstrations. But the company’s success hinges on the confidence of its users that their privacy is being protected. Once that’s gone, even a billion dollar empire like Facebook can dissolve very quickly.