Mark Zuckerberg Senate Testimony: My Review
by Susan Basko, Esq.
1. The app in question was a personality quiz. Were the quiz answers that people gave included with the basic account information that was sold to Cambridge Analytica?
2. Do other quizzes and similar apps retain the answers given by those who take the quizzes, and are those retained alongside basic user information?
3. Are app/ quiz makers free to retain the answers and basic user info, if they do not sell it? Are they free to sell it? Have other quizzes and apps sold the information?
4. Has gathering of information of third party information gathering stopped, as Mr. Zuckerberg stated? When did this stop? The Facebook privacy settings showed this as still happening just about a week ago. By this, I mean, that when a Facebook friend uses an app, it gathers the information of unsuspecting friends, unless they opt out on privacy settings from allowing third party app collection of information. Has this really stopped?
4a. Is it fair for Facebook to change users' privacy settings? For example, a few years back, I made the settings to not allow any third party app to access my information. Then, I went recently and saw that the privacy settings had been changed and all my information was being made available, without my input or knowledge. Why is Facebook changing the settings without my input or knowledge?
5. If a Facebook user has things set to private, such as their Friends list and their birthdate, is that information still harvested by apps and quizzes?
6. Regarding the personality quiz app designed by Aleksandr Kogan, did it harvest the user information of the friends of those who took the quiz? Did it harvest the information of the "friends of friends" of those who took the personality quiz?
7. What was the name of the personality quiz?
8. It seems suspicious/convenient to me that Facebook automatically changed user's third party privacy settings to make all data available to third parties, even when we had previously opted out of third party sharing, and then there was this app harvesting and selling third party info. Can you explain why the privacy settings regarding third party harvesting were changed automatically?
In my viewing of the Senate hearing, none of these questions were answered. Instead, Senators fussed about the difficulty of reading the long Terms of Service or of not understanding they can delete any post at any time or of not understanding that Facebook has lots of privacy settings. The questions of the interface between apps/ quizzes and user info, and the use of that information by the app owners were not ever made clear in the hearing.
Review of Mark Zuckerberg's performance during the hearing: I thought he did incredibly well. He was placed at a desk on the floor, all by himself -- a genuine hotseat. Funny pictures online showed he was sitting on a thick cushion, a "booster seat," according to one meme.
Mr. Zuckerberg addressed each Senators as "Senator," rather than as "Sir" or "Madam," or by name. This was a very good move. It showed sexual equality of the men and women Senators, and he did not need to worry about getting tripped up on any names. Everyone was "Senator."
One Senator tried to strong arm Mr. Zuckerberg into backing a piece of legislation to extend the online child privacy act upwards to age 16. This particular Senator seemed like he was trying to garner Mr. Zuckerberg's endorsement, right there in the hearing, of a piece of legislation he had not seen and that had not even been written. Mr. Zuckerberg wisely and astutely did not agree to this, while remaining polite to the Senator.
A funny few moments came when Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois asked Mr. Zuckerberg if he would mind sharing what hotel he stayed at the night before. Mr. Zuckerberg pondered, looked embarrassed, and then replied that yes, he would mind sharing that. The question was a little set-up by Senator Durbin to show that there are some things we all want to keep private.
Mr. Zuckerberg wisely and honestly referred a lot of the questions over to his team, saying they would work with the Senators to provide answers and find solutions. All told, Mr. Zuckerberg came across as a smart person, honest, and genuinely concerned with connecting people worldwide with their friends and families. He also showed a concern for not providing a platform for such things as terrorism, violence, or bullying. He referred to Facebook users as a "community." Mr. Zuckerberg's wide-eyed enthusiasm of creating a worldwide community seemed to finally be informed with the stark fact that there are many bad actors with nefarious intent out there in the world. A platform may be neutral, and while the vast majority of people will use such a platform to do good things, there are also plenty of people waiting to rush in and use it for bad purposes.
One surprising moment came when Mr. Zuckerberg genuinely seemed to not know what Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act entails, and how being a "pipe," as he referred to ISPs, rather than a "platform," as he referred to Facebook, could change immunity under Section 230. He repeatedly stated that Facebook is responsible for the content. He also mentioned several times that Facebook is planning to implement AI (artificial intelligence) to root out bad actors or bad content, such as terrorism. He also stated that Facebook plans to have 20,000 humans screening content in native languages. He stated that much terrorism is language-specific and would take a human to understand the nuance of it.
When break times were called during the hearing, many Senators left, making the room less crowded each time. After the meeting closed, Mr. Zuckerbeg went around shaking hands with several of the Senators, and then was escorted out. Mr. Zuckerberg may have left his notebook behind on the desk, because an AP photographer took a photo of the notes and posted it online. The notes were very basic and showed that he planned to keep his answers light, not technical, and to refer tricky questions over to his team.
All in all, I would give Mark Zuckerberg an "A" on his performance before the Senate. It would have been an A+ if he had understood the questions about Section 230 of the CDA, or the legal differences between being an ISP and a content provider. His lack of knowledge on this topic seemed genuine and perhaps his response does signal trouble with how Section 230 has been interpreted to mean that an ISP can have tort immunity if its users fill the site with defamation and invasions of privacy. To me, it sounded like Mark Zuckerberg was saying that was not good enough for him, that he wants to provide a good platform that creates Community. And maybe that should be the goal of all social media platforms, rather than hiding behind the legal immunity protections.