Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, endured a marathon session of questioning yesterday on Capitol Hill from a joint Senate committee looking to get to the bottom of the social media giant’s actions in several incidents where tens of millions of users had their personal information compromised.
It was a rare appearance for a CEO notorious for his aversion to public speaking and granting interviews.
Zuckerberg began by apologizing for failing to notify affected users of security breaches that have taken place. It was revealed earlier this year that Cambridge Analytica, a data research, firm acting in coordination with an app created by a Cambridge University academic accessed the personal information of up to 50 million Facebook users. Last week, that number was revealed by Facebook to be closer to 87 million.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. And I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” Zuckerberg said in his statement.
Facebook asked the companies involved to delete the breached data in 2015 when they learned of the incident but didn’t follow up nor did they alert affected users that their information had been compromised.
Despite the public apology Zuckerberg was pressed on his company’s questionable record on transparency and numerous unfulfilled promises of better behavior in the past.
“This may be your first appearance before Congress, but it’s not the first time that Facebook has faced tough questions about its privacy policies. Wired Magazine recently noted that you have a 14-year history of apologizing for ill-advised decisions regarding user privacy, not unlike the one that you made just now in your opening statement,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said.
“After more than a decade of promises to do better, how is today’s apology different?” he asked.
“I think it’s, it’s pretty much impossible, I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we’re at now without making some mistakes,” Zuckerberg responded. “And, because our service is about helping people connect and information, those mistakes have been different…we try not to make the same mistake multiple times.”
“But I’m committed to getting this right. And I believe that, over the coming years, once we fully work all these solutions through, people will see real differences,” he added.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Zuckerberg about preventing interference in future elections. Zuckerberg called the issue one of his top priorities.
“So this is an arms race, right?” Zuckerberg said. “I mean, they’re going to keep on getting better at this, and we need to invest in keeping on getting better at this, too, which is why one of things I mentioned before is we’re going to have more than 20,000 people, by the end of this year, working on security and content review across the company.”
The Senators seemed to press the point of trust and asked the CEO what price Facebook can reasonably expect Americans to pay, in terms of privacy, for a service that allows to them to connect so easily with friends and family around the world.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked. “No,” responded Zuckerberg after a pause, eliciting laughter from the gallery. “If you messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” Durbin asked. “Senator, no. I would probably not choose to do that publicly, here,” Zuckerberg replied.
“I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of, quote, ‘connecting people around the world.’” Durbin said.