(BIVN) – Hawaiʻi Senators participated in the questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Washington on Tuesday.
The joint Senate Committee on the Judiciary and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing was held April 10, entitled: “Facebook, Social Media Privacy, and the Use and Abuse of Data”.
Hawaiʻi Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat sitting on the Commerce committee, and Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat on the Judiciary committee, both had roughly 4 minutes each to question the billionaire CEO.
Since the time Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004, the social media platform has skyrocketed to 2.13 billion monthly active users across the world, more than 25,000 employees, and offices in 13 U.S. cities and various other countries, the senate committee says.
But en route to generating $40 billion in revenue in 2017, of which about 98 percent comes from advertising across Facebook and Instagram, data collection and privacy concerns have persisted. When it was reported in March 2018 that British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used personal information acquired about Facebook users for political purposes, federal lawmakers got involved.
“The tech industry has an obligation to respond to widespread and growing concerns over data privacy and security and to restore the public trust,” said Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The status quo no longer works.”
Zuckerberg, who called Facebook an idealistic and optimistic company, admitted it’s clear “now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.”
“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg stated. “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
The Facebook CEO then took questions from half the U.S. Senate. Eventually, it was time for Sen. Brian Schatz’ to examine Zuckerberg. Schatz asked about Facebook’s terms of service, and how the platform communicates with other apps.
“If I’m … emailing within WhatsApp,” Schatz asked, “does that ever inform your advertisers?”
“No,” Zuckerberg responded, “we don’t see any of the content in WhatsApp, it’s fully encrypted.”
“But is there some algorithm that spits out some information to your ad platform,” Schatz continued, “and then – let’s say I’m emailing about Black Panther within WhatsApp – do I get a Black Panther banner ad?”
“Facebook systems do not see the content of messages being transferred over WhatsApp,” Zuckerberg told the senator.
“That’s not what I’m asking,” Schatz replied. “I’m asking about whether these systems talk to each other without a human being touching it.”
“Senator, I think the answer to your specific question is, if you message someone about Black Panther in WhatsApp, it would not inform any ads,” Zuckerberg answered.
Schatz also discussed the idea of an “information fiduciary” with the Facebook CEO, after reading an article this week by Professor Jack Balkin at Yale.
“People think of fiduciaries as responsible primarily in the economic sense, but this is really about a trust relationship like doctors and lawyers, tech companies should hold in trust our personal data,” Sen. Schatz said. “Are you open to the idea of an information fiduciary and shrine and statute?”
“Senator, I think it’s certainly an interesting idea,” Zuckerberg said, “and Jack is very thoughtful in this space, so I do think it deserves consideration.”
Senator Mazie Hirono focused on the possible use of social media by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has proposed a new extreme vetting initiative which has been “renamed VISA Life Cycle vetting”. Hirono said that under President Trump’s executive order, ICE could turn to Facebook in order to “develop a mechanism or methodology that allows them to assess whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorists acts after entering the United States.”
“Question to you is, does Facebook plan to cooperate with this extreme vetting initiative,” Sen. Hirono asked Zuckerberg, “and help the Trump administration target people for deportation or other ICE enforcement?”
When Zuckerberg said he did not know that his company has had specific conversations around that, Hirono continued, “If you were asked to provide or cooperate with ICE so that they could determine whether somebody is going to commit a crime, for example, or become fruitful members of our society, would you cooperate?”
“We would not proactively do that,” Zuckerberg answered. “We cooperate with law enforcement in two cases. One is if we become aware of an imminent threat of harm, then we will proactively reach out to law enforcement, as we believe is our responsibility to do.”
“The other is when law enforcement reaches out to us with a valid legal subpoena or — or request for data. In those cases, if their request is overly broad or we believe it’s not a legal request, then we’re going to push back aggressively,” Zuckerberg said.
Hirono also quizzed the Facebook CEO on policy and procedures in curtailing “discriminatory advertising”.
“You said that you wouldn’t allow it,” Hirono said, but that “ProPublica could place these ads even after you said you would no longer allow these kinds of ads. So what assurance do we have from you that this is going to stop?”
“Well, two things,” Zuckerberg responded. “One is that we’ve removed the ability to exclude ethnic groups and other sensitive categories from ad targeting. So that just isn’t a feature that’s even available anymore. We review ads, we screen them up front, but most of the enforcement today is still that our community flags issues for us when they come up.”
“So if the community flags that issue for us, then our team – which has thousands of people working on it – should take it down. We’ll make some mistakes, but we try to make as few as possible. Over time, I think the strategy would be to develop more A.I. tools that can more proactively identify those types of content and do that filtering up front,” Zuckerberg said.