Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg disclosed Tuesday his company is “working with” special counsel Robert Mueller in the federal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and working hard to change its own operations after the harvesting of users’ private information by a Trump campaign-affiliated data-mining company.
Mary Clare Jalonick and Barbara Ortutay of the AP had the story:
The founder of the social media giant publicly apologized for his company’s errors in failing to better protect the personal information of its millions of users, a controversy that has brought a flood of bad publicity and sent the company’s stock value plunging. He seemed to achieve a measure of success: Facebook shares surged 4.5 percent for the day, the biggest gain in two years.
Zuckerberg told the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees that he has not been personally interviewed by Mueller’s team, but “I know we’re working with them.” He offered no details, citing a concern about confidentiality rules of the investigation.
Earlier this year Mueller charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through a social media propaganda effort that included online ad purchases using U.S. aliases and politicking on U.S. soil. A number of the Russian ads were on Facebook.
During Tuesday’s at-times-contentious hearing, Zuckerberg said it had been “clearly a mistake” to believe the data-mining company Cambridge Analytica had deleted user data that it had harvested in an attempt to sway elections. He said Facebook had considered the data collection “a closed case” because it thought the information had been discarded.
Seth Fiegerman of CNNMoney.com reported that Zuckerberg came away unscathed:
During the five-hour hearing, he fielded questions on Facebook’s data collection practices, the company’s alleged monopoly power and his views on regulating internet companies.
But with 44 senators asking questions, an unusually high number, and just five minutes of time allotted for each, there was limited potential for followup questions to and grilling of the CEO.
Perhaps the most memorable line of the afternoon came from Sen. John Kennedy, who slammed Facebook for its complicated terms of service agreement.
“Your user agreement sucks,” said Kennedy, a Republican representing Louisiana. “It’s not to inform your users about their rights. I’m going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it.”
Zuckerberg did stumble in answering a couple questions, including how Facebook staff came to the decision not to notify users of the Cambridge Analytica data issue when it first came to light in 2015.
Sarah Jeong of The Verge noted that Zuckerberg struggled to name a competitor:
“Who’s your biggest competitor?” Graham asked Zuckerberg. The CEO struggled to answer the question, naming Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft as “overlap[ing]” with Facebook in different ways.
“If I buy a Ford, and it doesn’t work well, and I don’t like it, I can buy a Chevy. If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product I can go sign up for?” Graham asked. When Zuckerberg attempted to again break down Facebook’s different types of services, Graham reiterated his question.
“I’m not talking about categories. I’m talking about real competition you face. ‘Cause car companies face a lot of competition. They make a defective car, it gets out in the world, people stop buying that car, they buy another one. Is there an alternative to Facebook in the private sector?”
Zuckerberg tried to give a longer answer about how the “average American uses eight different apps” to connect with their friends, attempting to frame Facebook as just one of many apps. Shortly thereafter, Graham cut to the chase and asked if Zuckerberg thought Facebook was a monopoly.