Mark Zuckerberg

Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Tells House Panel His Personal Data Sold To Others

April 11, 2018 - 12:35 pm

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg faced another day of tough questions on Capitol Hill, this time from the House of Representatives.

The stakes are high for both Zuckerberg and his company. Facebook has been reeling from its worst-ever privacy failure following revelations last month that the political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which was affiliated with Trump's 2016 campaign, improperly scooped up data on some 87 million users. Zuckerberg has been on an apology tour for most of the past two weeks, culminating in his congressional appearance Tuesday.

Zuckerberg told a House oversight panel Wednesday that he believes it is "inevitable" there will be regulation of the social media industry and also disclosed to lawmakers that his own data was included in the personal information sold to malicious third parties.

"The internet is growing in importance around the world in people's lives and I think that it is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation," Zuckerberg said during testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "So my position is not that there should be no regulation but I also think that you have to be careful about regulation you put in place."

Larger, more dominant companies like Facebook have the resources to comply with government regulation, he said, but "that might be more difficult for a smaller startup to comply with."

Lawmakers in both parties have floated possible regulation of Facebook and other tech companies amid privacy scandals and Russian intervention on the platform. It's not clear what that regulation would look like and Zuckerberg didn't offer any specifics.

Zuckerberg was answering a question from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) when he informed lawmakers about his personal data, a reference to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that has rocked his company over the past several weeks.

He was also asked: "Do you think you have a moral responsibility to run a platform that protects our democracy?"

"Yes," he responded.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-California) asked Zuckerberg about what happens to data that goes out to third parties “with their own algorithms to supplement (user data) and make their own assumptions.” She argued that under such circumstances, it can no longer be argued that users own their data.

“Then what happens there?” Matsui said. “Because to me, somebody else has taken that over. How can you say that we own that data?”

“Congresswoman, all the data that you put in, all the content that you share on Facebook, is yours. You control how it’s used. You can remove it at any time. You can get rid of your account get rid of all of it at once,” Zuckerberg said.

“No, but you can’t claw it back once it gets out there, right? I mean, that’s really – we might own our own data, but once it’s used in advertising, we lose control over it, is that not right?” Matsui said.

Zuckerberg responded that Facebook does not sell data to advertisers, despite the widespread belief that it does.

“Congresswoman, I disagree with that, because one core tenet of our advertising system is that we don’t sell data to advertisers. Advertisers don't get access to your data. There is a core misunderstanding about how that system works, which is that – let’s say if you’re a shop and you’re selling muffins, you might want to target people in a specific town who might be interested in baking or some demographic,” Zuckerberg said, “but we don’t send that information to you. We just show the message to the right people.”

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Florida) told Zuckerberg that Facebook has been struck a “devil’s bargain.”

“Americans do not like to be manipulated. They do not like to be spied on. We don’t like it when someone is outside of our home watching. We don’t like it when someone is following us around our neighborhood, or even worse, following our kids or stalking our children,” Castor said. “Facebook now has evolved to a place where you are tracking everyone.”

Castor said Facebook is following users even when they have logged off the platform, and is collecting personal information on people who do not even have Facebook accounts.

“I don’t think that that’s what we are tracking,” Zuckerberg said.

But Castor said Zuckerberg had already admitted that Facebook collects data on web users who go to a website with a Facebook “like or share” icon.

Zuckerberg confirmed to Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) that the company employs about 27,000 people in total, including tens of thousands – including contractors – who work on data security.

“At least half your employees are dedicated to security practices,” Olson said. “How can Cambridge Analytica happen with so much of your workforce dedicated to these causes?”

Zuckerberg said the issue with Cambridge Analytica and researcher Aleksandr Kogan had happened before Facebook “ramped up those (security) programs dramatically.” He also emphasized that artificial intelligence must be employed in addition to human staff.

“One thing that I think is important to understand overall is just the sheer volume of content on Facebook makes it that we can’t – no amount of people that we can hire will be enough to review all the content,” Zuckerberg said. “We need to rely on and build sophisticated AI tools that can help us flag certain content.”

Zuckerberg said artificial intelligence already has been successful in flagging and removing terrorist content. He said AI systems can identify and take down 99 percent of al-Qaeda and ISIS-related content before any human even sees it.

Zuckerberg also later said it would be difficult for the company to guarantee there are no "bad actors" when it comes to apps on the platform.

The 33-year-old also testified for nearly five hours Tuesday about Facebook's failure to protect user data.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake, and that was my  mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

He said connecting people and bringing them together is not enough – Facebook must make sure those connections are “positive,” and must make sure users’ information is protected.

“I’m committed to getting this right,” Zuckerberg said.

Lawmakers were at times aggressive Tuesday as they accused Zuckerberg of failing to protect the personal information of millions of Americans from Russians intent on upsetting the U.S. election.
Zuckerberg disclosed that his company is "working with'' special counsel Robert Mueller in the federal probe of Russian election interference. He said he had not been interviewed by special counsel Mueller's team, but "I know we're working with them." He offered no details, citing a concern about confidentiality rules of the investigation. He says it's working hard to change its own operations after the harvesting of users' private data by Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg said Facebook had been led to believe Cambridge Analytica had deleted the user data it had harvested and that had been "clearly a mistake." He said Facebook had considered the data collection "a closed case" and had not alerted the Federal Trade Commission. He assured senators the company would handle the situation differently today.

Seemingly unimpressed, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Zuckerberg's company had a 14-year history of apologizing for "ill-advised decisions" related to user privacy. "How is today's apology different?" Thune asked.

"We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company," Zuckerberg conceded, and Facebook must work harder at ensuring the tools it creates are used in "good and healthy" ways.

In all, Zuckerbaerg skated largely unharmed through his first day of congressional testimony and Wall Street seemed to approve. Facebook stock closed up 4.5 percent Tuesday, enjoying its best day on Wall Street in two years.