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"It was a big mistake," Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg tells US Congress

11-April-2018
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 "It was a big mistake," Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg tells US Congress

Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday appeared before the US Congress in connection with his company’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal.

The 35-year-old CEO showed up for a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees and fielded questions from 44 Democratic and Republican senators on Facebook's data collection practices, privacy concerns and the company's alleged monopoly power.

During the five-hour hearing, Zuckerberg apologized for the improper collection of up to 87 million Facebook users’ data. He reportedly acknowledged that he and Facebook “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg if Facebook was too powerful. Replying to his question, Zuckerberg is reported to have said that when people talk about Facebook's scale — conflating size with power — they are referencing the 2 billion in its community, most of which are outside the US.

Speaking on the content on the social media platform, Zuckerberg reportedly said he views Facebook as a tech company, not a publishing company. It is is responsible for the content, but they don't produce it.

Answering a question from Sen. Chris Coons on fake profiles, Zuckerberg was reported as saying that Facebook needs to do a better job with its content policy enforcement. He said people report things and Facebook employees review them, but in future, AI technology will be flagging content.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin asked Zuckerberg if researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who is accused of mining Facebook data, provided data to any other firms. Zuckerberg replied saying that he sold it to other firms.

According to media reports, Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, asked Zuckerberg if he's willing to make a commitment to protect political speech from "all different corners", to which the CEO said he would.

He was quoted as replying that he wants the “widest possible expression" on Facebook.

"If there's an imminent threat of harm, we're going to take a conservative position on that and make sure that we flag that and understand that more broadly," Zuckerberg was quoted as saying in a media report.

Some media reports suggested that Sen. John Kennedy probably had the strongest message for the Facebook CEO. He reportedly told Zuckerberg: "Your user agreement sucks."

The Louisiana Republican said that there were some impurities in the Facebook punchbowl and they got to be fixed. The senator said that there are two problems with Facebook: privacy and propaganda.

Mark Zuckerberg also refuted allegations made by Sen. Gary Peters that Facebook may be listening to phone conversations-- "mining audio" to create targeted ads the next time they open the app. “It's a conspiracy theory Facebook has been denying for years. We don't do that," Zuckerberg reportedly told Peters.

During the hearing the Facebook CEO came in for some criticism from senators who felt that he was dodging questions.

Media reports quoted Sen. Kamala Harris as saying, “During the course of this hearing, you’ve been asked several critical questions for which you don’t have answers. Those questions have included: whether Facebook can track activity after a user logs off of Facebook, whether Facebook can track you across devices even when you aren’t logged into Facebook. Who is Facebook’s biggest competition, whether Facebook may store up to 96 categories of users information.”

Zuckerberg spelled out Facebook’s data practices with advertisers, saying Facebook does not sell user data.

“What we allow is advertisers to tell us who they want to reach (on Facebook) and we do it for them,” Zuckerberg reportedly said. “That data never changes hands or goes to the advertiser.”

During the questioning, Zuckerberg also outlined how Facebook is pivoting to becoming a more proactive enforcer against hate speech, election interference and other data abuses on its platform. He said new artificial intelligence tools have significantly helped in curbing terrorism-related content shared by ISIS and Al Qaeda. He pledged that by the end of the year, the company will have 20,000 human moderators to flag hate speech and other content that violates its company policies.

The Facebook CEO will be back in front of lawmakers again Wednesday, when he is slated to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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