Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told U.S. Senators in Washington on Tuesday that the social networking giant is going through a “philosophical shift” and is changing the way it manages its network and how it deals with users following criticisms on a number of fronts.
“We need to take a more proactive role and a broader view of our responsibility,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not enough to just build tools. We need to make sure that they’re used for good.”
Zuckerberg said the shift applies to concerns that have been raised over the protection of users’ privacy, as well as Russian election meddling and fake news, and it means the company will be more aggressive in policing what happens on Facebook.
Responding to the calls for greater government regulation, Zuckerberg said he supports government action in some specific areas, for example, to create simple and clear consent tools for people who use such services as Facebook, and rules to make it clear for all online services that users still own their data and can delete it if they want.
However, he said he worries about regulation, which will stifle innovation and make American companies less competitive against Chinese competitors.
The hearing on Capitol Hill was at times tense, and at times muddled, as senators attempted to ask intelligent questions about social media that some did not seem entirely familiar with.
Zuckerberg appeared wooden and uncomfortable at points, but markets liked what he was saying. Facebook’s stock rose 4.52 per cent over the course of the day, with a particularly notable bump right after Zuckerberg started speaking. Even so, the company’s shares are still trading more than 10 per cent lower than they were just before the Cambridge Analytica story broke in March.
The testimony on Tuesday was widely anticipated. Senator Orrin Hatch said that this was the most intense scrutiny he’d seen in a tech hearing since the Microsoft hearings in the late 1990s.
Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify again Wednesday before members of the House of Representatives. The testimony is part of a weeks-long damage-control effort on the part of the social media giant, ever since news stories revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, had improperly accessed millions of Facebook users’ data and attempted to psychologically profile those people to influence the U.S. presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.
Facebook has announced a suite of measures to combat abuse and election manipulation across its service.
Those include a “bounty” on user data abuse that will see the company pay for tips that lead to confirmed cases of improper personal data use.
The bounty was the latest in a drumbeat of new policies and tools aimed to assuage privacy concerns, while also making advertising and other aspects of Facebook more transparent.
On Tuesday, Facebook was also informing users who had their information taken as part of the Cambridge Analytica breach.
One of those users was Newfoundland and Labrador folk singer Con O’Brien, who learned when he logged into Facebook Tuesday morning that he was swept up in the privacy breach.
Now, O’Brien said he’s wondering about the trip he’s got planned.
“I’m crossing the border next week, going to Florida. And I’m wondering: should I take my phone?” he said. “I think I’ll just tweet nice things about Trump for a few days before I go.”
O’Brien said he wasn’t surprised that his information was part of the Cambridge Analytica database: As the lead singer of the Irish Descendants, he has thousands of fans on Facebook as friends and any one of them could have taken the “This Is Your Digital Life” quiz that was used to harvest the Facebook data which Cambridge Anaytica used.