Friday 20 April 2018

Adrian Weckler: Senators barely lay a glove, let alone land a punch, on Facebook's founder

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Ten hours of testimony over two days. No one knows whether his giant chair cushion was to make his 5ft 7in frame look taller or was simply a comfort aide.

But it's clear that over some 10 hours of testimony, the combined forces of the US Congress and US Senate barely laid a glove on Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.

Largely uninformed and unprepared, the US equivalent troupe to our TDs asked question after question on the same basic issues.

"Do you think Facebook is too confusing for users?" "Do you sell user data to advertisers?"

Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company's use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill. Photo: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company's use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill. Photo: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

"Don't you think it's time for regulation?"

Zuckerberg had the same basic answers, supplemented by platitudes such as "that's an important conversation that we need to have" or "this is something we're thinking about a lot" or "I want to be clear that this is my responsibility".

Watched by millions online, even Facebook's harshest critics found little new to bash the company with, or its 33-year-old founder, whose fortune rose to more than €50bn in the last week.

By and large, it's an opportunity wasted by America's most powerful political institutions.

After all, they could have asked some real questions.

Such as: why should we allow you to continue tracking users when they have logged out of Facebook?

Or: why should you be allowed to continue the service without making everything opt-in from here on in, even if it means disabling the app until users manually opt in to the various services?

Or even: why should you be allowed to continue to own WhatsApp, given its massive scale?

One senses, for example, that such questions may not be long coming in more privacy-oriented Europe.

Instead, the American politicians were more interested in trying to garner some sort of soundbite rather than build a new deal around Facebook.

To be fair, we did find out a few potentially useful things.

For example, Zuckerberg finally shot down the notion that Facebook taps your phone's microphone to listen to you while it figures out which ads to show later.

Yesterday, he insisted the social giant doesn't do this to Indiana Republican Larry Bucshon.

He had said the same to Michigan Democratic Senator Gary Peters the day before.

In Ireland, suspicion about this lingers in every pub and WhatsApp group. All of us have a cousin who was talking to a friend about a purple jumper last week, only to find an ad for a jumper on their Facebook feed the very next day.

There is also the possibility of a paid Facebook service, raised by Mr Zuckerberg the previous day.

Other than that, chalk this up as a circus where the tamers got tamed.

Irish Independent

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