As we reported earlier today, Mark Zuckerberg today testified in Congress in a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees. Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress comes following Facebook’s controversial relationship with Cambridge Analytica and other election meddling concerns.
Thus far, Zuckerberg’s testimony has brought a few notable comments relating to Facebook’s handling of user data, the potential for a paid version of Facebook, and more…
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On Russia & U.S. election meddling
Zuckerberg outlined that one of his “greatest regrets” in how he’s run Facebook relates to the company’s handling of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election:
“One of my greatest regrets in running the company is that we were slow in identifying the Russian information operations during 2016,” Zuckerberg said.
He noted that the company has been “better” at monitoring meddling in French, German, and the Alabama Senate elections, stopping “10s of thousands” of fake accounts.
Notes show planned Tim Cook & Apple shoutout
During a break in questioning, Zuckerberg left his notes open and in range of an AP photographer. Most notably, the notes point to a planned counterpoint from Zuckerberg:
The notes even refer to Tim Cook, the Apple CEO who recently criticized Facebook. One note says there are “lots of stories about apps misusing Apple data, never seen Apple notify people.”
The notes also refer to Zuckerberg’s planned response to questions about his resignation. “His notes acknowledge he’s made mistakes and say the company is facing a “big challenge” but will solve this one too,” AP News reports.
A paid version of Facebook?
Senator Orrin Hatch pressed Zuckerberg about how Facebook makes money and how its business model is sustainable. The senator asked Zuckerberg whether or not the company could offer users an option to pay for the service in exchange for not sharing their personal information:
“To be clear, we don’t offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads. We think offering people an ad-supported service is the most aligned with our mission of trying to connect everyone in the world, because we want to offer a free service that everyone can afford. That’s the only way we can reach billions of people.”
“Yes, there will always be a version of Facebook that is free,” he added.
Facebook’s user agreement “sucks”
One of the more stinging moments of the testimony came from Senator John Kennedy, who blasted Facebook’s user agreement, saying that the purpose is to cover Facebook’s “rear end” not to inform users about their rights. Watch below:
Zuckerberg refutes a long-running conspiracy
One of the long-running conspiracy theories of Facebook is that the social network uses the microphone of user devices to mine audio from users. During today’s testimony, Senator Gary Peters asked Zuckerberg about this theory (via TechCrunch).
Peters explained that he has heard from his constituents that they’ll be having a real-life conversation with friends, and later start seeing ads for what they were talking about on Facebook:
“Something that I’ve been hearing a lot from folks who have been coming up to me and talking about a kind of experience they’ve had where they’re having a conversation with friends – not on the phone, just talking. And then they see ads popping up fairly quickly on their Facebook,” Peters explained.
“So I’ve heard constituents fear that Facebook is mining audio from their mobile devices for the purposes of ad targeting – which I think speaks to the lack of trust that we’re seeing here.”
As you would expect, Zuckerberg’s response was a simple “No.” However, Peters point speaks to Facebook’s reputation among users, and that’s something Zuckerberg looks to change.
Criticisms of the preparedness of Senators
A former advisor to President Obama criticized how prepared the Senators were for this hearing:
On not informing users in 2015 of Cambridge Analytica scandal
Zuckerberg said Facebook views its decision not to tell people of the 2015 data scandal as a “mistake.” Watch below:
Is Facebook a monopoly?
Senator Lindsy Graham pressed Zuckerberg on Facebook’s competitors, eventually getting to the point of whether or not Zuckerberg feels Facebook is a monopoly. Here’s the exchange:
Graham: Who is your biggest competitor?
Zuckerberg: Senator, we have a lot of competitors
Graham: If I don’t want to buy a Ford, I can buy a different kind of car. Is there an alternative to Facebook in the private sector?
Zuckerberg: Well, we provide a number of diff…
Graham: You don’t think that you have a monopoly?
Zuckerberg: it certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.
Ultimately, Zuckerberg said that Facebook welcomes regulation, as long as it is the “right regulation.”
Ted Cruz pushes on conservative censorship
Ted Cruz turned the heat up on Zuckerberg, pressing the Facebook CEO on whether or not the company has fired anyone for having conservative viewpoints, or throttled posting on the platform that is conservative.
Zuckerberg is set testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce tomorrow at 10AM ET/7AM PT. You can watch that via a live stream right here.