Mark Zuckerberg testifies: what you need to know

By Cameron Abbott and Sarah Goegan

Mark Zuckerberg testified before the US Congress in two marathon sessions this week. He was quizzed on topics including Cambridge Analytica and data sharing, privacy law and social media regulation, and Facebook’s policies.

Key issues covered in the inquiry, and what we learned included:

  • Potential moves to regulate social media and enhance US privacy law: Zuckerberg described social media regulation as “inevitable”, but that it needed to be the “right” regulation. Facebook’s failures at self-regulation were demonstrated most damagingly during the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook did not alert the Federal Trade Commission about the data collection by Cambridge Analytica, and had “taken their word for it” when assured the data company would stop using the personal information it harvested. In fact, Aleksandr Kogan’s terms of service included commercial use of the data.
  • Zuckerberg’s own data was compromised: Zuckerberg’s data was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, which allegedly used private information of 87 million people, including over 300,000 Australians.
  •  Facebook collects data of non-users: Data of users and non-users is collected for advertising and “security” reasons, Zuckerberg acknowledged. Information about non-users is also collected from account holders’ inboxes and phone contacts creating “shadow profiles”. Zuckerberg stated that people can opt out of data collection. However, Congressman Ben Lujan pointed out that this is difficult for non-users!
  •  False news – Facebook is enhancing security and monitoring platform use ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections: Whilst Internet companies have traditionally claimed to be neutral platforms that do not control what users post and share, Zuckerberg acknowledged Facebook needed to have a “broader view” of its responsibilities. It is doing more, he said, to monitor and prevent misuse of the platform to disseminate propaganda and disinformation.
  • Don’t expect any big changes soon: When pressed to give a yes or no answer, Zuckerberg would not commit to assuring that Facebook would change its default settings to minimise data collection “to the greatest extent possible.”

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