Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on April 11 told lawmakers that his own personal data was included in that of 87 million or so Facebook users that was improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
But he pushed back on U.S. Congress members’ suggestions that users do not have enough control of their data on Facebook in the wake of the privacy scandal at the world’s largest social media network.
“Every time that someone chooses to share something on Facebook... there is a control. Right there. Not buried in the settings somewhere but right there,” the 33-year-old internet magnate told the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
Mr. Zuckerberg's admission that his own data made its way into the hands of Cambridge Analytica laid bare that even the company's technologically adept founder was unable to protect his own information from parties seeking to exploit it.
That underscores the problem Facebook has in persuading lawmakers that users can safeguard their own information if they carefully manage their personal settings and that further legislation governing Facebook's use of data is unnecessary.
“How can consumers have control over their data when Facebook does not have control over the data?” asked Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce committee, at the beginning of the hearing.The latest estimate of affected users is up to 87 million.
Once again wearing a dark suit instead of his usual grey T-shirt, the hearing was Mr. Zuckerberg’s second in two days. On April 10, he took questions for nearly five hours in a U.S. Senate hearing without making any further promises to support new legislation or change how the social network does business, foiling attempts by senators to pin him down.
“It is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation” of internet firms, Mr. Zuckerberg said on April 11, but he again steered away from any specifics.
Some lawmakers grew frustrated at their limit of four minutes each to press Mr. Zuckerberg on specifics, and chastised the billionaire at times for offering up rehearsed platitudes about valuing user privacy.
“I can't let you filibuster right now,” Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn said at one point. She cut Mr. Zuckerberg off a number of times.
Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democratic congressman, was in the process of asking Mr. Zuckerberg when he learned that Facebook allowed advertisers to prevent ads from being shown to certain minority groups, a possible violation of civil rights laws. He was cut off.
Facebook shares were up 1.2% on April 11 after dips earlier in the day. They posted their biggest daily gain in nearly two years on April 10 as Mr. Zuckerberg managed to deter any specific discussion about new regulations that might hamper Facebook's ability to sell ads tailored to users' profiles.
Facebook has been consumed by turmoil for nearly a month, since it came to light that millions of users’ personal information was wrongly harvested from the website by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy that has counted U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign among its clients.
Mr. Zuckerberg faced broad concerns from members of Congress about how Facebook shares user data.
Patience with the social network had already worn thin among users, advertisers and investors after the company said in 2017 that Russia used Facebook for years to try to sway U.S. politics, an allegation Moscow denies.
Lawmakers have sought assurances that Facebook can effectively police itself, and few came away from the April 10 hearing expressing confidence in the social network.
“I don’t want to vote to have to regulate Facebook, but by God, I will,” Republican Senator John Kennedy told Mr. Zuckerberg on April 10. “A lot of that depends on you.”
Mr. Zuckerberg deflected requests to support specific legislation. Pressed repeatedly by Democratic Senator Ed Markey to endorse a proposed law that would require companies to get people’s permission before sharing personal information, Mr. Zuckerberg agreed to further talks.
“In principle, I think that makes sense, and the details matter, and I look forward to having our team work with you on fleshing that out,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.