Closed Zuckerberg testifies – as it happened

TOPSHOT - One hundred cardboard cutouts

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testifies on Capitol Hill this week about the Cambridge Analytica data leak, fake news and Russian election-meddling. The FT’s technology team and DC correspondent in the hearing room deliver the blow-by-blow.


Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is expected to be assailed by lawmakers when he testifies on Capitol Hill this week about the Cambridge Analytica data leak, fake news and Russian election-meddling. The FT’s technology team deliver the blow-by-blow.


In an effort to get ahead of the ‘you-stole-our-data’ accusations, Facebook pinned a tweet about its ‘data abuse bounty’ some two hours ahead of Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance.

At the same time, one hundred cardboard cutouts of Mr Zuckerberg were placed outside the US Capitol (photo at the top of this page) by a protest group called Avaaz to draw attention to what it says are hundreds of millions of fake accounts still spreading disinformation on Facebook.

https://twitter.com/facebook/status/983733140706410501


Barney Jopson reports from inside the hearing room: Zuckerberg’s seat, black leather with wooden arms, has been enhanced with the addition of an extra cushion. It’s not clear whether this is to boost his height or comfort. Zuckerberg is reportedly 5ft 7in.


Welcome to the Zuck show! Today the Facebook founder will make his first ever appearance before Congress, after resisting calls to testify for some time. While we wait, here’s some required reading from the FT:

Barney Jopson and I penned a guide for what we think Senators should be thinking about ahead of the hearing: Six questions Mark Zuckerberg will not like from Congress

Chris Hughes, an early Facebooker, spoke at an FT event in London last night Facebook co-founder says reckoning over its data use is ‘overdue’

Facebook is facing questions all over the world – especially in south-east Asia. Vietnam activists accuse Facebook of helping suppress dissent

The FT’s Lex argues that regulation could be what the company needs Facebook: regulation = validation

And I discuss how European and American ideas of privacy differ – and how to apply them to social media Our idea of privacy must catch up with reality in the Facebook age


The FT has been doggedly covering the Cambridge Analytica revelations and its impact on Facebook over the past few weeks (if I say so myself).

Here are a couple of the big pieces you may have missed:

- First, we interviewed Sheryl Sandberg last week when she said Facebook was too slow to respond.

-Next, Aliya Ram, the FT’s European tech correspondent, interviewed Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, discovering that Facebook had been informed that the survey app might sell user data.

- Finally, I interviewed Max Schrems, the law student turned privacy activist who warned of the very loophole that Cambridge Analytica used back in 2011. He’s now preparing to embark on more enforcement actions, taking advantage of the new European privacy regulations coming in next month. Read more here.


Here’s a round-up of some of the best recent pieces on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica from across the web:

-The UK’s Channel 4 news, which filmed undercover videos of its meetings with Cambridge Analytica executives, says today that it has new documents revealing how CA pitched ‘unique’ social media data in multiple US election campaigns. Read more here.

-The New York Times wrote about how Zuckerberg has been preparing for the hearings with a “crash course in charm”. We’ll see if that works today. Here’s their story from Sunday.

-And CNN has a report that would freak out even the most calm and charming among us: an activist group has put 100 cardboard cutouts of Mark Zuckerberg on the US Capitol lawn. They read fix fakebook.


Senator Mark Warner, who has been leading a charge to regulate tech companies with his Honest Ads Act, has set out the questions he wants answered today in a tweetstorm.

https://twitter.com/MarkWarner/status/983767851642359808

https://twitter.com/MarkWarner/status/983767854637047808

https://twitter.com/MarkWarner/status/983767857065492482


Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg met privately with many politicians ahead of the hearing. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democratic member of the judiciary committee, was impressed.

https://twitter.com/StevenTDennis/status/983486305928663040


Shares in Facebook have risen so far today – up 2.4 per cent to $161.70, after a torrid few weeks. They are still down about 13 per cent since the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

The hearing starts well before the markets close so worth watching the stock as Zuckerberg speaks.


Barney Jopson reports from the room that two Republicans, John Kennedy and Ron Johnson, came over to shake hands with Zuckerberg.

He hesitated a long time before sitting down in front of the inevitable phalanx of clicking photographers.

Grassley starts the hearing: “Although not unprecedented this is a unique hearing.”


There are 42 senators between the two committees so this will take a while. Grassley says senators can have quick follow ups – but no second round of questions.


Senator John Thune (R) begins by saying it is extraordinary to have the single CEO of one company to testify to almost half the Senate. But Facebook has incredible reach – with 1,500 times the number of users as people in his home state of South Dakota.

It is a hearing, Senator Thune says, about what Zuckerberg has described as a “breach of trust”. One reason that many people are worried about this incident is what it says about how the social network works. He says it is “disturbing” that 300,000 people could expose the data of up to 87m.

Thune focuses in on the concept of a “breach”: this is not about malicious hackers, it is the function of the tools Facebook has created. The Senator also questions whether users know enough to enter into the bargain the business model is built on: exchanging data for a free or low cost service.

In the past, Congress has deferred to the tech companies’ efforts to regulate themselves. But that may be changing, he says, referring to a recent bill on sex trafficking that should be a “wake up call” for the tech community.

He ends by saying that Zuckerberg and Facebook in some ways represent the “American Dream” but they need to make sure it does not become a “privacy nightmare”.


Democrat Dianne Feinstein is next up. She jumps straight into Russian election interference, and outlines the Mueller indictment of the Russian troll army. Then onto Cambridge Analytica, and how its CEO claimed to have helped on the Trump campaign.

This isn’t something Republican senators will want to dig into too much. Cambridge Analytica has said it didn’t use the Facebook data to target ads for the Trump campaign, but that’s still under investigation.


Senator Chuck Grassley (R) begins his comments with a history of Facebook and a sense of its international scale.

“Like their expanding userbase the data collected on Facebook users has also skyrocketed,” he said. The social network has moved on from likes and relationship statuses, to many more data points including location and events. Many are “confused” or “altogether unaware” that Facebook makes money from users’ data.

The Senator points out that Facebook is not the only massive data harvester, also pointing the finger at Google, Twitter, Apple and Amazon.

Senator Grassley also wants to broaden the discussion beyond Cambridge Analytica’s work for the Trump campaign, talking about how the Obama campaign scraped Facebook data. Bush, Obama and Trump, all used microtargeting on social media, he said.

The tech industry has an obligation to respond to widespread and growing concerns over data piles and security and to restore the public’s trust. The status quo no longer works.

Moreover, Congress must determine if and how we need to strengthen privacy standards to ensure transparency and understanding for the billions of consumers who utilize these products.


Grassley (R) hits back for the Republicans: The Obama campaign used an identical app to the one abused by Cambridge Analytica, he claims.

And he quotes an Obama campaign official saying it “would wind up being the most ground-breaking piece of technology for this campaign”.


Bill Nelson, a Democratic senator from Florida, hones in on whether people can trust Facebook to look after their personal data any more. He strikes a folksy note and is complimentary to Zuckerberg personally. But he makes no bones about the serious of the FTC investigation into the company and the huge privacy risk.


Mark Zuckerberg sets out his opening statement. It looks like the same statement he gave to the House committee, which he will attend tomorrow.

“We face a number of important issues about privacy, safety and democracy, and you will rightfully have some hard questions for me to answer,” he said.

Zuckerberg does not want the Senators to forget that Facebook has done good: to connect to people they love, build communities and businesses, and political movements such as the #metoo movement and the March for Our Lives.

It’s not enough to just connect people, we have to make sure those connections are positive. It’s not enough to just give people a voice, we have to make sure people aren’t using it to hurt people or spread misinformation. It’s not enough to give people control of their information, we have to make sure developers they’ve given it to are protecting it too. Across the board, we have a responsibility to not just build tools, but to make sure those tools are used for good.

Zuckerberg is able to roll out a long list of Facebook’s actions to address privacy issues raised by the Cambridge Analytica revelations and to try to stop Russian election interference on the platform. Facebook rushed out many announcements last week to prepare for this hearing.


Zuckerberg declares profitability does not come before community at Facebook.

My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together. Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I’m running Facebook.

Facebook made $16bn in net income last year. But it has warned that profitability will be hit by moves to hire more moderators, increasing the number to 20,000 by the end of the year.


Grassley reminds the senators they only get five minutes each. So 42 times five is going to be… a long time.


Grassley (pictured right, Thune to his left) begins by asking how many times has data been transferred from developers that had permissions to other third parties?

Zuckerberg can’t give any numbers on which apps have been banned. He just says that Facebook is going to be investigating tens of thousands of apps.

This is new. Facebook has audited other companies to ensure the deletion of improperly transferred data but Zuckerberg doesn’t know how many times.


Grassley now asking about Facebook’s data policy, which he says doesn’t give any indication of more controversial uses of its data. Why doesn’t it disclose these potential users?

Zuckerberg doesn’t directly answer the question, instead saying when you go to share something on the network, it tells you if you are making it public or sharing it with your friends.

“Long privacy policies are very confusing,” he said. “And if you make it long and spell out all the details, then you’re probably going to reduce the percent of people who read it and make it accessible to them.”


Senator Nelson asks if Facebook is considering letting users pay rather than receive highly targeted ads.

Zuckerberg: “Even though some people don’t like ads, people really don’t like ads that aren’t relevant”. He adds that “Facebook needs some kind of business model”, and defends the ad-supported approach as “the only way we can reach billions of people.”

Read more about why Facebook should pay its 2bn user for their personal data in an FT column here by the former director of Cambridge Analytica.


Nelson says there has been “a pattern of lax data practices going back years”: Why didn’t Facebook warn people in 2015 their data had been leaked?

Zuckerberg dodges the question, twice. He says Cambridge Analytica said it had deleted the data, and it was “clearly a mistake” to believe them. But he doesn’t say why Facebook didn’t tell users.


Senator Thune starts by asking about Wired magazine’s recent story that listed apologies going back 14 years – since the company was founded.

Why should people trust Facebook?

I think 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. And because our service is about helping people connect and information, those mistakes have been different in how — we try not to make the same mistake multiple times, but in general a lot of the mistakes are around how people connect to each other, just because of the nature of the service

But now Facebook is going through a “broader philosophical shift”.

For the first 10 or 12 years of the company, I viewed our responsibility as primarily building tools that if we could put those tools in people’s hands, then that would empower people to do good things. What we’ve learned now across a number of issues, not just data privacy but fake news and foreign interference in elections, is that we need to take a more proactive role and a broader view of our responsibility.

Now Facebook needs to police its eco-system, Zuckerberg says. Many will of course ask why they hadn’t been doing that sooner.


The tone is all very moderate so far. The questions (and criticisms) have been direct but the questioning careful, and there’s no sign of anger or grandstanding.

Zuckerberg seems to have picked up on the mood: he’s warming up in his responses, starting to look a little less tense and sounding more relaxed.


Thune asks about how Facebook draws the line between hate speech and political discourse.

Zuckerberg starts by harking back to his dorm room again:

So from the beginning of the company, in 2004, I started in my dorm room, it was me and my roommate. We didn’t have AI technology that could look at the content people were sharing so we basically had to enforce our content policies reactively. People could share what they wanted and then if someone in the community found it to be offensive or against our policies, they’d flag it for us and we’d look at it reactively. Now increasingly we’re developing AI tools that can identify certain classes of bad activity proactively.

There is still a higher error level than he is happy with but he’s optimistic than in five to ten years, the AI tools will be more nuanced and accurate.


Facebook stock rising – up 5 per cent to $165.87.


In answer to a question from Senator Feinstein about election interference: He talks about new AI tools that the company has used in other recent elections to weed out fake content. He calls it an arm’s race, says Facebook will soon have 20,000 people working on defending the network.

He says Facebook has removed “tens of thousands” of fake accounts linked to Russian intelligence.

Read more about what special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian indictment has revealed about Russia’s troll farm here.


Asked why Cambridge Analytica wasn’t banned in 2015, Zuckerberg almost gushes: “Senator, that’s a great question”. Since it wasn’t an advertiser there was nothing to ban, he says.


Senator Orrin Hatch (R) says this is the most intense public scrutiny he has seen for a tech company hearing since the Microsoft hearings he chaired in the 1990s.

He seems to mock the “shock, shock” of users who don’t realise Facebook and Google extract user data, because they don’t charge people for access.

“Nothing in life is free. Everything involves tradeoffs. If you want something without having to pay money for it, you’re going to have to pay for it in some other way, it seems to me. That’s what we’re seeing here. These great websites that don’t charge for access, they extract value in some other way. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.

To my mind, the issue here is transparency. It’s consumer choice. Do users understand what they’re agreeing to when they access a website or agree to terms of service? Are websites up-front about how they extract value from users or do they hide the ball? Do consumers have the information they need to make an informed choice regarding whether or not to visit a particular website?

The senator asks if Facebook will always be free. Zuckerberg says they will always have a free version.

Then he hands Zuckerberg a strange soft ball:

Hatch: If so, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?

Zuckerberg: Senator, We run ads.

Senator Hatch warns against Congress’ over-regulation. He asks Zuckerberg how he would like to be regulated?.

Zuckerberg sets out his principles for possible legislation:

1. A “simple and practical” way to show what you are doing with data. Sounds a bit like the European General Data Protection Regulation but probably weaker in restrictions.

2. People should have control over what they share.

3. Legislation should enable innovation. He says there is a balance that is extremely important to strike. Companies should obtain special consent for sensitive features, like facial recognition, but they should be able to innovate to compete with Chinese competitors and others around the world.

Interesting first mention of China, where privacy standards are very different.


Senator Maria Cantwell (D) tries to drag Palantir (co-founder: Peter Thiel) into the discussion. Did the US data company coach Cambridge Analytica, or scrape data off Facebook itself?

Answer: Senator, I’m not aware of that.

She continues: Should the US have privacy legislation to match Europe’s GDPR?

Sensibilities are different so the exact same rules might not work, says Zuckerberg.

But he says Facebook is “committed to rolling out the controls . . . and the affirmative consent required around technologies like facial recognition” required in the European regulation.


Senator Roger Wicker (R) backs Senator Hatch’s concern about over-regulation. Do you think we need consistent privacy protections across the entire internet ecosystem based on the kind of data, rather than the kind of company?

Zuckerberg said he would differentiate between ISPs – the pipes of the internet – and platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter. Zuckerberg says he’s in favour of net neutrality and the company probably wouldn’t be here without it.

Senator Wicker asks if is it true Facebook collects the call and text history of Android users? Zuckerberg has a relatively easy answer for this: they opted-in. But he doesn’t know if this is a feature available people aged 13 to 17.

Then he asks an important question: Can you track a user’s internet browsing activity even after the user has logged off?

Zuckerberg doesn’t want to answer at first, saying he wants his team to follow up.

I know that people use cookies on the internet. And that you can probably correlate activity between sessions. We do that for a number of reasons. Including security and including measuring ads to make sure that the ad experiences are the most effective which of course people can opt out of. But I want to make sure that I’m precise in my answer.


Senator Patrick Leahy (D) asks if Facebook has been contacted as part of the of the Mueller investigation.

Zuckberg says he personally hasn’t been questioned but others at Facebook have. Then he says that the company hasn’t been on the receiving end of a subpoena and tries to shut this line of questioning down: “Our work with the special counsel is confidential.”


The first real sign of antagonism: Leahy presses Zuckerberg on how Facebook has failed to prevent hate speech in Myanmar.

Zuckerberg says the company has hired “dozens” of locals who have the native language skills to identify abuse. His comment that what’s happening in Myanmar is a “tragedy” feels a bit pro-forma, and there’s no discussion of how much Facebook may have contributed to the problem.

You can read more about why south-east Asia’s politics are proving to be a problem for Facebook in the FT’s Big Read here.


Senator Lindsey Graham refers to a Facebook post from VP Andrew Bosworth in which he said the platform must pursue its aim of connecting people using “questionable” practices, even if it costs lives.

“If someone who worked for me wrote this I would fire them,” Graham says.

Then, he pushes on whether Facebook is a monopoly:

If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product I can go and sign up for? . . . I’m talking about real competition you face. Car companies face a lot of competition if they make a defective car. It gets out in the world, people stop buying that car, they buy another one. Is there an alternative to Facebook in the private sector?

He continues.

Question: You don’t feel like you have a monopoly?

Answer: It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me. [laughter]

Graham asks about regulation and Zuckerberg says his team will submit proposals for regulations.

Here’s our story on the ‘ugly truth’ memo.


Some are drawing attention to the fact that some of these senators have received donations from Facebook.

https://twitter.com/antoniogm/status/983780333760884736

https://twitter.com/nationaljournal/status/983774154917924864


Senator Amy Klobuchar (D), a sponsor of the Honest Ads Act, credits Facebook with backing the new election advertising legislation.

Zuckerberg has been well schooled: He thanks the senator for her leadership on the issue, explains what Facebook is doing to make it more transparent who is placing election-related advertising.


Question: Would you support a rule to notify your users in 72 hours? (of any leak of data)

Answer: Senator, that sounds sensible to me.


Zuckerberg seems to have trouble answering questions about Facebook tracking First he said his team would have to follow up about how users are tracked around the web. Now, he’s saying they need to follow up about Senator Roy Blunt (R)’s question on cross device tracking.


Senator Dick Durbin (D) is hoping for a showdown over Zuckerberg’s personal privacy:

Question: Would you be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?

Answer: Um – no.


I was wondering when this was going to come up. Senator Durbin mentions Facebook’s launch of Messenger for Kids, designed for six year olds and up. Childhood experts and privacy activists have criticised the app.

“What guarantees can you give us that no data from messenger kids is or will be collected or shared with those that might violate the law?” Durbin asks.

Zuckerberg says it is a privacy protected zone with no sharing of data with third parties.


Senator Durbin missed an important point about Zuckerberg’s personal privacy. It came out last week that Zuckerberg had reached into the inboxes of people he had sent messages to and deleted those messages – a right to privacy not afforded to the rest of Facebook users.

https://twitter.com/jguynn/status/983797628814090240

https://twitter.com/MikeIsaac/status/983797847999983616

Facebook quickly said that it would roll out the feature to everyone – but its not clear that was always the plan.


Senator Cornyn (R) asks whether the “Move fast and break things” motto led Facebook to make mistakes.

You can almost hear Zuckberg sigh: he’s been living that motto down for a long time. He points out that it expresses a “cultural value” about shipping new products quickly. But he concedes that Facebook made a bigger mistake, in not thinking hard enough about “whether those tools are used for good”.

Cornyn goes on to ask whether Facebook should have responsibility for content on its platform.

The stark response: “I agree that we’re responsible for the content.” But even though that sounds a blunt answer, Zuckerberg is not quite ready yet to bow to media-style regulation. “There are moral and legal obligation questions we will have to wrestle with as a society,” he says.


Senator Richard Blumenthal (D) shows Mr Zuckerberg the terms of service that Aleksander Kogan, the Cambridge professor behind the survey app, supplied to Facebook, that said he could sell the user data.

Mr Zuckerberg says he had never seen those terms of service – which we published in the FT almost two weeks ago – and that no one had been fired for not properly looking at them.

The senator asks if this is “willful blindness” and a violation of the FTC consent decree. Zuckerberg says it did not violate the privacy agreement with the US regulator.

Then he pushes on whether users should be able opt-in instead of opt-out of data collection. “I think that’s something to discuss and I think that the details matter a lot,” Zuckerberg replies cautiously .


Senator Ted Cruz (R), who has made no secret of his view that Facebook is biased against Republicans, goes straight to the point: Does Facebook consider itself “a neutral public forum”?

Zuckerberg ducks the legal issue buried in that question (whether Facebook deserves immunity for content under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act).

Cruz rephrases: Has Facebook been “engaged in a pattern of bias and political censorship”?

Zuckerberg: “I understand where that question is coming from. Facebook and the tech industry is located in Silicon Valley which is an extremely left-leaning place.” He says he “tries to weed out bias” personally.

Cruz runs through a list of content he claims has been removed from Facebook because of political bias, then asks if Zuckerberg is aware of any left-leaning content that has been cut.

He succeeds, for what is probably the first time in two hours of questioning, to get Zuckerberg to sound rushed and unsure of himself: “I’m not aware… I’m not sure”. But it is only momentary.

Cruz also asks whether Facebook checks on the political affiliations of the thousands of people it is hiring for content moderation. Answer: “We do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they join the company.”


The hearing is adjourned for a few minutes, but Zuckerberg looks like he would quite happily have run on. He already turned down the chance of a break once to take more questions.


Zuckerberg comes back from his break. He has to correct himself, saying Cambridge Analytica was an advertiser in 2015 so it could have been banned from the platform. Earlier – and last week – Zuckerberg said that Cambridge Analytica could not be banned when the leak was discovered because it wasn’t yet an advertiser.


Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) asks if Cambridge Analytica would be banned if it came up in another guise? Zuckerberg says yes, and it has banned its parent company and AggregateIQ, which it believes is connected to the firm.

AggregateIQ is thought to have played a key role in the Vote Leave campaign during the UK’s Brexit referendum. It denies having access to any Facebook data or database allegedly obtained improperly by Cambridge Analytica.


Senator Whitehouse points out a problem in Facebook’s plan to identify political advertisers. Zuckerberg says it will require a valid government identity and verify the advertiser’s locations.

Whitehouse: But if they were running through a corporation domiciled in Delaware you wouldn’t know they were a Russian owner.

Zuckerberg: That’s correct.


Zuckerberg has in general been performing well given the onslaught. But he is particularly bad at the technical questions, trying not to get into the weeds.

Here Senator Brian Schatz (D) is asking about data collected from direct messages and browsing habits.

It is worth remembering that Zuckerberg is an engineer, focused on the Facebook product – so he should know the answers to these questions.

Schatz asks about information fidicuaries, an idea put forward by Jack Balkin at Yale, where organisations who have data would have specific responsibilities to it like a doctor or a lawyer would to their clients.

Zuckerberg says it is an “interesting idea” and Balkin is “very thoughtful”.


The questions about the the types of data Facebook collects, and who has control over it, are coming thick and fast now – and it’s leading to a fair degree of communication failure.

“Senator, I’m not actually sure what that is referring to,” Zuckerberg says in response to a question from Senator Deb Fischer (D) about whether the company stores many different “categories” of data about users.


Senator Chris Coons (D) said there’s a lot of examples where ad targeting has caused problems: Russians were able to target based on racist views, wildlife traffickers are using Facebook tools to sell endangered species, Facebook lets advertisers exclude users by race in real estate advertising violating Fair Housing laws - some interesting work by ProPublica.

Senator Coons says he found a fake profile of himself with lots of Russian friends on Facebook just today. It was taken down quickly. Would that have happened if he wasn’t a senator?

Finally he gets to his key question: Why do you shift the burden to users to flag important content?

Zuckerberg repeats that Facebook plans to shift to AI, which can flag problematic content before users see it. “We need to get there as soon as possible,” he says.


At current pace Zuck is due to be done with questioning by 1am ET a senator jokes. I really hope he’s joking.


Senator Benjamin Sasse (R) says the line between a tech company and a “content company” is hard to distinguish. If Facebook decides it needs to “police a whole bunch of speech”, might it be bad for America?

Zuckerberg: We struggle with that.

Sasse: “Safety” seems to be a guiding principle for the kind of discussions you allow on Facebook – but people feel passionately about an issue like abortion, could outspoken comments on that end up getting banned?

Zuckerberg is starting to sound very cautious indeed. “I certainly would not want that to be the case,” he says. Apparently aware he’s being painted into a corner on this issue, he tries to deflect: these are important questions that all online companies face, and “that’s a question we need to struggle with as a country.”


Some of the Senate’s biggest firebrands are not here today, because they are not on either the judiciary or the commerce committee.

Bernie Sanders is commenting from afar:

https://twitter.com/SenSanders/status/983771827431464960

https://twitter.com/SenSanders/status/983771831764107264

https://twitter.com/SenSanders/status/983771833311879168


Senator Ed Markey (D) asks Zuckerberg: would you support legislation put on a books a law that says Facebook and other companies that would have to get users’ permission before they sell or use data? (He has a bill on this)

Zuckerberg is being a little slippery: in general, he agrees with the principle, he repeats twice. But his definition of “opt-in” seems to be you opt-in when you press share or like on Facebook – not the detailed up front “opt-ins” of GDPR, which Facebook will have to comply with in the EU.

Senator Markey also wants a bill of rights to protect children’s online privacy where opt-in is the standard.

Zuckerberg once again says as a “general principle” he believes in protecting kid’s privacy. But he’s not sure if they need a law.

Markey is not impressed, shaking his head as his time is up.

You can read my thoughts on privacy in the Facebook age here.


The strategy for the day is pretty clear by now: sound open to whatever new regulations the senators propose, while not committing to anything specific and leaving it all to future negotiation.

This response to Markey, who was trying to press Zuckerberg to commit to a stronger opt-in for users, was typical: “In principle that makes sense and the details matter and I look forward to having our team work with you to work that out”.

Translation: We’ll talk about this one later.


Senator Jeff Flake (R) asks: Do you think Russia and China have collected profiles of Facebook users?

Zuckerberg: “In general, we suspect that a number of countries are trying to abuse our systems.” But he says that, “sitting here today”, he doesn’t know all that is under investigation.


Zuckerberg just repeated that Facebook locked down the platform in 2014. Facebook announced the changes to how much data developers had access to in 2014 – but didn’t implement them until 2015.

Aleksandr Kogan’s deal with Cambridge Analytica specifically mentioned that he had access to this data which many others didn’t because they had a year long grace period for existing apps.


Senator Mazie Hirono (D) asks if Facebook plans to cooperate with the US immigration and customs enforcement’s extreme vetting initiative using social media data in their work? ICE hopes to use the data to assess who might predict a crime.

Zuckerberg says he would decline, if there was no law Facebook has to follow.


Failed soft ball question from Senator Dan Sullivan: You could only do this in America, right? You couldn’t do this in China?

Zuckerberg: Well . . . there are some very strong Chinese internet companies.

Sullivan* You are meant to say yes. [laughes]

But then Sullivan gets into the serious question: Is Facebook too powerful?

It becomes clear that Zuckerberg thinks mentioning Chinese companies is important to keep Congress on his side. Chinese companies, he says, are a “strategic and competitive threat”. Facebook wants DC to stop tech-bashing because they believe the national technology industry is at risk.


Senator Sullivan asks about whether regulation will stop new Facebooks, US start-ups coming up behind the giants? Aren’t you going to try to lobby for regulation that cements in your advantages? Zuckerberg says no.

He moves on to a very old and still unanswered question about Facebook: is it a publisher rather than a tech company?

Zuckerberg repeats his usual claim that it is a tech company, because it makes technology. But he accepts it is responsible for the content on the platform.


Senator Tom Udall (D) goes straight to the point: If you’re angry about the Cambridge Analytica situation, do you want new laws?

Zuckerberg fends that off switching the focus to the US elections coming up later this year (and other elections that are due around the world):

The most important thing right now is that noone interferes with the midterm elections.

In other words: let’s not bother talking about future laws when we have democracy to defend.

Facebook legal counsel Colin Stretch (pictured returning to the hearing room after a break) would approve of that answer.


Senator Jerry Moran: How does the Cambridge Analytica case not violate the FTC consent order?

Zuckerberg repeats that he does not believe that it violated the order. He confuses the senator by saying the up to 87m friends of the 300,000 users of the survey app did in fact consent to the use of their data by the app.

What people don’t understand here is that the friends did not consent at the moment that the user took the survey – but they had agreed to settings when they signed up that said their friends could expose their data.


Senator Cory Booker (D) digs into allegations about how data about race has been used in the past to target housing and other advertising on Facebook. Zuckerberg agrees this is a “very important question” and says in future, more AI will help to identify discriminatory material.

But he also says: “In this specific case I’m not happy where we are.”

When Booker asks if Facebook will let civil rights groups look more closely at Facebook’s data to identify potential discrimination, he says: “I think that’s a very good idea and we should follow up on the details of that.”


We’re back to another point that is hard to understand: Facebook doesn’t sell data to advertisers. Senator Dean Heller (R) shows his misunderstanding by asking if there was ever a time they drew a line and would not sell an advertiser data. The way to think about this is Facebook is a search engine for people – it uses data to let marketers find people to put their adverts in front of. It wouldn’t be in Facebook’s interest to sell the data – that’s where the value is.


Senator Heller (R) asks if Zuckerberg thinks Faceobok is more responsible with data than the federal government?

Zuckerberg says yes.

Heller had been arguing Zuckerberg was hypocritical for criticising government surveillance. Zuckerberg says a big difference is people choose what they share with Facebook and can delete it – which they can’t from a government surveillance programme.

Oddly, there was no mention of the NSA tapping the servers of tech companies, as shown by the Edward Snowden leaks.


Heller got Zuckerberg to bristle there for a minute, suggesting it was engaged in surveillance.

He also bristles when Senator Peters (D) asks whether Facebook uses audio data it collects from users. “No,” he declares flatly – and then jumps back in to denounce what he says is a widely held “conspiracy theory” that the company secretly makes recordings through users’ microphones to target its advertising.


The senators take another break. The mood has definitely shifted. After a somewhat tense start, Zuckerberg has seemed supremely in control of himself for much of the afternoon. But he has looked more irritable in the last few minutes, and less patient when he feels Facebook’s practices are misunderstood. It will be interesting to see whether that changes when he returns.


We’re back. Senator Thom Tillis says he thinks Zuckerberg has done a “good job”.


Senator Thom Tillis (R) worked in data analytics and he said Cambridge Analytica was clearly not the first firm to do this. He says it is important to take away the partisan rhetoric pretending it is a “Republican issue”.

He says he hopes Zuckerberg is equally angered that the Obama campaign had sucked up data, just as he is angered by Cambridge Analytica. He talked about an Obama campaign app that took users’ friends data and a member of the campaign boasting it had obtained the whole social graph.

The Obama campaign also employed Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. At an FT event this week, Hughes said the public reckoning over Facebook was “very much overdue”.


Coming from Facebook’s home state, Senator Kamala Harris (D) might be expected to go easier on the company than some others, but she’s clearly having none of it.

She starts by listing some of the questions Zuckerberg has failed to answer (samples: does Facebook track users’ browsing habits when they are logged off, or track them across devices?)


She grills Zuckerberg on why the company failed to alert users in 2015 when it found that their data had leaked to Cambridge Analytica, and on whether he (or other senior leaders) had had a hand in that decision.

It elicits some of his vaguest responses. “I don’t remember a conversation like that,” he says of whether he was involved, and: “I’m not sure whether there was a conversation like that.”


Senator John Kennedy (R) says he does not want to vote to have to regulate Facebook. But he will if Zuckerberg does not take action. Senator Kennedy says Facebook can spend $10m on lobbyists and fight Congress, or go back home and help solve the problems.

“I’m a little disappointed in this hearing today. I just don’t think we’re connecting,” he says. He says Zuckerberg is a “really smart guy” but the promised “digital utopia” has minefields. “There’s some impurities in the Facebook punch bowl”.

To laughter, he said Facebook’s user agreement “sucks”. “The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end, not to inform your users about their rights,” he said.

The Senator then pushed Zuckerberg to answer whether someone at Facebook could enter its systems and get his personal data. Zuckerberg said that was “technically” possible but would be a “massive breach” so no one would do that.


We’re four hours in (give or take a break or two). Just a scattering of senators still waiting to ask questions, by the look of it.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) gets back to the 87m Facebook users whose information was siphoned off by Cambridge Analytica. If the network had been hacked, would it have had an obligation to warn users, she asks? Answer: “Yes”.

She doesn’t say it outright, but the question of why Facebook failed to tell anyone about the leak at the time is clearly something that rankles with a lot of the senators.


Zuckerberg doesn’t know how many people read the full terms and conditions to the end.

It is interesting that the data-focused company, that knows even how long you pause on an individual post in newsfeed, has never tracked if people read the terms they use as a consent mechanism.


Senator Ron Johnson asks if Facebook has thought about allowing users to monetise their own data?

Zuckerberg reiterates his commitment to an advertising business model, saying people like not having to pay for a service and a lot of people can’t afford to. But he does say it is “reasonable” to think through ideas like subscription models.


Senator Maggie Hassan (D): “There’s clearly tension between your bottom line and what’s best for your users.” So why, she asks, should we ever believe Facebook on its own would make the changes that are needed?

Answer: Because Facebook is looking at the long term. So even if user engagement figures fall in the short term, it might be better for the business in the long term if they’re making valuable connections with other users rather than looking at low-value (and highly-engaging) content.


Zuckerberg has almost got through the hearing without committing to specific laws apart from the Honest Ads Act, which it had already agreed to.

As Lex writes, rules and oversight could be the bridge the growth company now needs.


Buzzfeed has just published a story saying Facebook met with a representative of the Mercers, the family that funded Cambridge Analytica and bankrolled Trump’s campaign.

Check out our profile on Rebekah Mercer and her efforts to channel money into rightwing causes here.


Hassan isn’t mollified. She presses on whether more laws are needed to protect users.

Zuckerberg agrees – again, without specifics. He also rejects the suggestion that commercial self-interest distorts incentives for the company. “This episode has clearly hurt us,” he says.


Senator Moore Capito is interested in whether delete really means delete on Facebook. Zuckerberg says users can choose between deactivation, where the account is shut but keeps the data in case the user wants to reopen it, and deleting it, which wipes the users’ data from servers.


Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) says Facebook failed to look closely enough into how personal data was being used after it reached a privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011: Had it done so, the Cambridge Analytica scandal would never happened.

Zuckerberg is starting to look (and sound) a little weary with the constant back-and-forth with senators trying to pick holes in Facebook’s specific data policies. He takes a long sip of water and seems to decide not to pursue this point further.


Senator Cory Gardner (R) asks how long deleted data sits on back-up systems? Zuckerberg can’t answer the specifics.

Then, he asks another specific question about tracking, which Zuckerberg has not been good at. If you have Facebook open in one tab, can you track the articles in other tabs? Yes. Do you think users understand that? Zuckerberg says yes, they understand.

But I don’t think most people do realise that because a ‘Like’ button is on an article, it is tracking them even if they never click the button.


“I hope this isn’t the last time we see you in front of committee,” says senator Jon Tester (D). After four and a half hours, there’s no comment on that one from Zuckerberg.

But he’s more than ready for the senator’s question: How will Facebook stop a Cambridge Analytica-type leak from happening again? He’s been talking about this for weeks now, and will no doubt face the same question for months or years to come.


Senator Todd Young thinks users should have one expectation on privacy wherever they are on the internet and whether or not the company is a platform or an ISP.

Zuckerberg disagrees – he doesn’t see why Verizon should look at user data, they don’t need it for the service so it should be encrypted, he said.


The end is in sight. Commerce committee chair Thune makes some final comments.

It’s been an “informative hearing”, he says – though like others he takes a jab at Zuckerberg’s inability to be clear about some of his company’s policies, “sometimes on Facebook practices that seem quite straightforward.”


Grassley sums up: He appeals to Zuckerberg to do his bit to end political polarisation. Congressmen get on more than the public thinks, he says.

“Anything you can do to reduce this cynicism” would be welcomed.

“If people don’t have faith in the institutions of government… we don’t have a very strong democracy.”


And that’s it. At around five hours, a real marathon. Zuckerberg looked tired and drawn when he came in, but his attention didn’t waver and apart from a few impatient moments he presented a very coherent front.


Zuckerberg finishes over five hours of testimony by shaking hands with the chairs of the two committees. It is 7.30pm in Washington DC and the Facebook chief executive has another round of questions in the morning, this time from the House Commerce committee.


There are only so many different ways you can say: ‘Yes, I agree some regulations are needed, let’s talk about the details later.’

The vagueness was clearly starting to grate with some of the senators towards the end.


Zuckerberg pulled off the testimony with no major mishaps. No one asked if he would resign, he didn’t agree to any regulation that he hadn’t already signed up to, and he ducked questions about Facebook’s business model.

He wasn’t brilliant at explaining the technicalities around data, often trying to shift responsibility to his team to follow up later, arguing the details are complicated.

Politically, he was clearly trying to balance appearing like what he is: the chief executive of one of the world’s largest and most influential companies – with appealing to the Senators’ with tales of growing the company out of his dorm room.

He also mentioned China a couple of times, perhaps a hint to Congress that they might want to think twice about bashing their homegrown tech industry, for fear that it could be surpassed by Chinese tech.

Democrats seemed more interested in regulation than Republicans, who stressed that rules could stifle competition of the future Facebooks starting in dorm rooms right now. Republicans were also more concerned about whether was stifling right wing speech on the platform or inside the company.

And finally, the stock market verdict on the Zuckerberg testimony: