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Lawmakers Question Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg About Data Privacy Lapses


Facebook took center stage on Capitol Hill today as founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg answered to senators on the judiciary and commerce committees, and he started with an apology.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: 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.


That apology because some 87 million users' data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica. It's a political firm that was hired by the Trump campaign. It used Facebook data to construct psychological profiles on voters. Many senators had concerns about user privacy and asked questions about the way Facebook protected user data. Here's Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.


BILL NELSON: You consider my personally identifiable data the company's data, not my data. Is that it?

ZUCKERBERG: No, Senator. Actually, the first line of our terms of service say that you control and own the information and content that you put on Facebook.

NELSON: Well, the recent scandal is obviously frustrating not only because it affected 87 million but because it seems to be part of a pattern of lax data practices by the company going back years.

KELLY: Another senator, Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, doubled down on that point.


DICK DURBIN: Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?

ZUCKERBERG: (Laughter) No.


DURBIN: If you've messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you've messaged?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.

DURBIN: 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."

KELLY: Meanwhile, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah seemed less concerned with the company using data to target advertising.


ORRIN HATCH: Did any of these individuals ever stop to ask themselves why Facebook and Google didn't - don't change - don't charge for access? Nothing in life is free. Everything involves trade-offs. 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. And that's what we're seeing here.

And these great websites that don't charge for access - they extract value in some other way. And there's nothing wrong with that as long as they're upfront about what they're doing. To my mind, the issue here is transparency.

KELLY: Hatch cautioned that Congress' response should not be to overregulate.

CORNISH: Zuckerberg also testified about the Russia issue - revelations last year that Russian actors used Facebook to spread misinformation in an effort to undermine the 2016 presidential elections. That's where Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, started her questioning, asking what Facebook will do to stop this sort of activity in the future. Zuckerberg pointed to what he said was Facebook's improved record in elections since that election.


DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Explain what is better about the record.

ZUCKERBERG: So we've deployed new AI tools that do a better job of identifying fake accounts that may be trying to interfere in elections or spread misinformation. And between those three elections, we were able to proactively remove tens of thousands of accounts that - before they could contribute significant harm.

And the nature of these attacks, though, is that, you know, there are people in Russia whose job it is is to try to exploit our systems and other Internet systems and other systems as well. So this is an arms race. They're going to keep on getting better at this, and we need to invest in keeping on getting better at this, too.

CORNISH: Hovering over all this was the issue of whether the government should regulate the tech industry.

KELLY: Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, wondered this - whether consumers have an alternative to Facebook.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: If I buy a Ford and it doesn't work well and I don't like it, I can buy a Chevy. If I'm upset with Facebook, what's the equivalent product that I can go sign up for?

ZUCKERBERG: Well, there - the second category that I was going to talk about are...

GRAHAM: I'm not talking about categories. I'm talking about, is there a real competition you face - 'cause 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?

ZUCKERBERG: Yes, senator. The average American uses eight different apps to communicate with their friends and stay in touch with people, ranging from text apps to email to...

GRAHAM: OK, which is the same service you provide.

ZUCKERBERG: Well, we provide a number of difference services.

GRAHAM: Is Twitter the same as what you do?

ZUCKERBERG: It overlaps with a portion of what we do.

GRAHAM: You don't think you have a monopoly.

ZUCKERBERG: It certainly doesn't feel like that to me.



GRAHAM: So it doesn't.

KELLY: Senator Graham asked why Facebook should be trusted to regulate itself when it doesn't have any direct competition, to which Zuckerberg said he would be open to government regulation if it's the right regulation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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