WASHINGTON — CEO Mark Zuckerberg is back on Capitol Hill to start another day of testimony. He was questioned by nearly half the Senate on Tuesday about his company’s failure to protect user data.
During some five hours of Senate questioning Tuesday, Zuckerberg apologized several times for Facebook failures, disclosed that his company was “working with” special counsel Robert Mueller in the federal probe of Russian election interference and said it was working hard to change its own operations after the harvesting of users’ private data by a data-mining company affiliated with Donald Trump’s campaign.
Lawmakers said a sorry isn’t enough.
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?” he asked
“Stop apologizing and let’s make the change,” added Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto
“We should have handled a lot of things here differently,” answered Zuckerberg.
He admitted the company should not have waited some two and a half years to inform up to 87 million users that their data was harvested by a third party app posing as a personality quiz and then sold to Cambridge Analytica.
“Who at Facebook had this information and did they not have a discussion about whether or not the users should be informed?” asked Sen. Kamala Harris.
“We clearly view it as mistake. We did that based on false information that we thought the case was closed and that the data had been deleted.”
Zuckerberg insisted Tuesday that Facebook can police itself and that it’s mission has evolved.
“It’s not enough to just build tools. We need to make sure that they’re used for good.”
Several senators argued that Facebook’s privacy controls are confusing on purpose.
“Your user agreement sucks,” stated Sen. John Kennedy. “The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end. It’s not to inform your user about their rights.”
“Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” asked Sen. Dick Durbin.
“Um, no,” replied Zuckerberg.
“That may be what this is all about, your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy.”
“Everyone should have control over how their information is used,” replied Zuckerberg. “Everyday people come to our services to choose to share photos or send messages, and every single time they choose to share something they have a control right there about who they want to share it with.”
Zuckerberg is sure to get asked again Wednesday about the Russia investigation after this revelation Tuesday.
“Have you or anyone at Facebook been interviewed by the special counsel’s office?” asked Senator Pat Leahy.
Zuckerberg said he has not been interviewed by Mueller’s team, but said “I know we’re working with them.” He offered no details, citing a concern about confidentiality rules of the investigation.
Earlier this year Mueller charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through a social media propaganda effort that included online ad purchases using U.S. aliases and politicking on U.S. soil. A number of the Russian ads were on Facebook.
Wall Street seemed to approve of the proceedings – Facebook’s stock gained four and a half percent, its biggest one- day increase in two years.
Wednesday, House members get their chance to question Zuckerberg.
Separately, the company began alerting some of its users that their data was gathered by Cambridge Analytica. A notification that appeared on Facebook for some users Tuesday told them that “one of your friends” used Facebook to log into a now-banned personality quiz app called “This Is Your Digital Life.” The notice says the app misused the information, including public profiles, page likes, birthdays and current cities, by sharing it with Cambridge Analytica.