Zuckerberg sounded smart, but it’s clear that politicians are looking for more ways to regulate.
Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress on Tuesday in a marathon five-hour hearing, and he walked away with a victory.
Wearing a navy blue suit and a royal blue tie instead of his usual T-shirt and jeans, the Facebook CEO spent much of the day answering questions about how Facebook’s services work. Does Facebook delete user data from its server once an account is deleted? (Yes.) Can Facebook use your WhatsApp messages to target you with ads? (No.)
He spent a lot of time explaining how Cambridge Analytica was able to collect the personal information from as many as 87 million people without their permission, something Facebook has now been explaining publicly for weeks.
He didn’t get flustered when Sen. Ted Cruz implied that Facebook is biased against conservatives, or defensive when Sen. John Kennedy said bluntly that, “Your user agreement sucks.” He was nowhere close to the sweaty, flustered Zuckerberg who once sat onstage for an interview with Recode’s founders Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg. (Not that we thought he would.)
Instead, Zuckerberg’s testimony was rather … dull. At least for those who follow Facebook closely. Zuckerberg frequently mentioned the things that Facebook has already done post-Cambridge Analytica to fix its privacy policies, and by the end of the day, the questions were getting more and more repetitive as people ran out of new things to ask.
I don’t think anyone would watch this and be more angry with Facebook than when the hearing started. And that seems like a win.
Still, there were multiple moments that are worth pointing out — and worth remembering as politicians look for more opportunities to regulate Facebook and the tech industry moving forward.
The first was from Sen. Lindsey Graham, who asked Zuckerberg if there was another social network out there that provided legitimate competition to Facebook. Zuckerberg didn’t really have a good answer, and then Graham asked if Facebook should be considered a monopoly.
“It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg replied.
But the seed was planted. Who does Facebook really compete with? Is Facebook too big? It’s tough to imagine anything would happen in that vein anytime soon, but it’s an intriguing idea.
The other moment came from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who announced that he was putting forward a new bill on Tuesday called The Consent Act, which would require users to opt-in to giving companies their data and allowing them to use it. (Many tech companies use opt-out by default, which means they collect stuff unless you explicitly tell them not to.)
“Would you agree to an opt-in instead of an opt-out?” Blumenthal asked.
“Senator, I think that that certainly makes sense to discuss, and I think the details around this matter a lot,” Zuckerberg replied.
At the end of the day, many of the senators said that they looked forward to working with Zuckerberg on whatever regulation comes about. Which is another reason Zuckerberg’s performance today feels like a victory. If senators want to work with Zuckerberg, not against him, that’s good news for Facebook.
As we’ve seen from the Honest Ads Act, a bill proposed late last year to better regulate online political ads, any regulation will likely take time, and Facebook is already trying to get ahead of potential rules it might one day be forced to follow.
Zuckerberg will be back tomorrow for a separate hearing in front of the House Commerce Committee at 10 am ET. We’ll be there, covering it live.
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