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'Um, uh, no': Zuckerberg flummoxed when asked to share his own personal details

The Facebook founder showed an unwillingness to answer personal questions at the congressional hearing.

Posted by on Monday, 22 July 2019

OF THE HUNDREDS of questions thrown at Mark Zuckerberg by US lawmakers yesterday, none appeared to flummox the Facebook founder more than Senator Dick Durbin’s pointed query about where he slept the previous evening.

“Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” Durbin asked during an intense and closely-watched hearing about online digital privacy, and Facebook’s role in what happens to personal information once users join the platform.

Zuckerberg paused for a full eight seconds, chuckled, grimaced, and ultimately demurred.

“Um, uh, no,” he said.

And “if you’ve messaged anybody this week would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” the Illinois Democrat persisted.

Again, a similar unwillingness to answer.

Perhaps more than any other senator during five hours of questioning, Durbin’s everyman tactic put a finger on the crux of the issue surrounding Facebook’s failure to maintain control of the private information of tens of millions of users, amid a scandal over the gathering of personal data used to target political advertising and messaging during the 2016 presidential race.

“I think that might be what this is all about,” said Durbin, 40 years Zuckerberg’s senior.

“Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you give away in modern America in the name of connecting people around the world.”

Zuckerberg, who at 33 runs a multi-billion-dollar company with some two billion users, accepted personal responsibility for the leak of users’ data and vowed that the company will do better in guarding such information.

He also conceded Durbin’s point was a fair one. “I think everyone should have control over how their information is used,” Zuckerberg said.

Mark Zuckerberg hearing Mark Zuckerberg testified at Capitol Hill yesterday. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

‘My mistake’

Zuckerberg accepted personal responsibility for the leak of data for tens of millions of its users in the hearing yesterday.

“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg said about the improper sharing of 87 million people’s information by Cambridge Analytica, a firm working for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I started Facebook, I run it and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

He added that Facebook fell short in protecting the platform, noting: “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

The 33-year-old CEO spoke of a constant struggle to guard against Russian manipulation of the Facebook platform to influence elections in the US and elsewhere.

“There are people in Russia whose job it is to try to exploit our systems and other internet systems and other systems as well,” he said.

So this is an arms race. They’re going to keep getting better and we need to invest in getting better at this too.

Zuckerberg said he was open to regulation, but cautioned against complex rules that might impact emerging social media firms.

“I think the internet is becoming increasingly important in people’s lives and I think we need to have a full conversation about what is the right regulation,” he told the hearing.

“You need to be careful (a new regulatory policy) doesn’t cement in the current companies that are winning.”

Zuckerberg also revealed that Facebook is cooperating with the US special prosecutor investigating Russian interference in the 2016 vote.

“Our work with the special counsel is confidential. I want to make sure in an open session I don’t reveal something that’s confidential,” he said.

Zuckerberg said he had personally not been contacted, and that he was not specifically aware of any subpoena of Facebook data.

“I believe there may be (a subpoena), but I know we’re working with them,” he said.

Swapping his customary T-shirt for a business suit and tie, the Facebook chief appeared sombre as he fielded tough questions over Cambridge Analytica’s massive data breach.

“We’ve been working to understand exactly what happened with Cambridge Analytica and taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said in his prepared remarks.

But the show of contrition fell short for several lawmakers.

“We’ve seen the apology tours before,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told Zuckerberg.

“And so, my reservation about your testimony today is that I don’t see how you can change your business model unless there are specific rules of the road.”

© – AFP 2018

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