Today's Cache | Facebook grilled, again

Today's Cache dissects big themes at the intersection of technology, business and policy. Written by John Xavier, tech news lead at The Hindu

Updated - October 04, 2021 09:53 am IST

Published - October 04, 2021 09:15 am IST


For Facebook, the Senate hearing, is a repeat of 2003


In the popular biopic Social Network , Harvard undergrad and programmer Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) sits down at his computer on a fall night in 2003 to get his mind off his girlfriend. The character starts to work on an idea.

“I like the idea of comparing two people together,” Eisenberg blogs as Zuckerberg. “It gives the whole thing a ‘Turing’ feel, since people’s rating of the pictures will be more implicit than, say, choosing a number to represent each person’s hotness like they do on”

Zuckerberg then hacks databases of several colleges to download pictures of female students to put them into a website which allows people to compare two images. A link to the site is then shared via email, and nearly the entire campus clicks on it to rank women based on their profile pictures.

That experiment brought Harvard University’s network crashing down. And it led to Zuckerberg being questioned by the board for intentionally breaching security, violating copyrights and individual privacy.

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration.

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration.


While Zuckerberg got a 6-month long academic probation for his misdemeanour as an undergrad, his initial face mash idea has metastasised in the form of Instagram. That’s why Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, testified at a Senate hearing on Thursday after lawmakers accused the company of disregarding internal research that concluded the photo-sharing app enabled body image issues to get worse for teenage girls.     

The hearing went poorly for the social network event hough Davis noted that the research had limitations and could not prove causality.

Among the key takeaways: the lawmakers said they would increase efforts to upgrade the 1998 law the governs websites holding children’s data. Davis said her company would not retaliate against the whistleblower who provided senators internal company research reports. She also confirmed that the company wouldn’t take any legal action against the individual who provided thousands of pages of research documents to lawmakers.


(T his column was emailed on October 1.)


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