Zuckerberg will be apologizing a lot to Congress this week.
Mark Zuckerberg is on Capitol Hill to deliver one of the most high-profile mea culpas in tech history.
The 33-year-old multibillionaire is testifying before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday and then talking to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
His task: to answer questions about the biggest scandal to hit Facebook since it was founded 14 years ago and to reassure lawmakers, investors, advertisers and 2.2 billion users that Facebook can be trusted with their data.
“My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together,” Zuckerberg said in prepared remarks released Monday ahead of Wednesday’s House committee meeting. “Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I’m running Facebook.”
Zuckerberg has a lot of convincing to do. In March, Facebook was forced to acknowledge that data about millions of users was shared without their permission. That admission came only after a whistleblower gave the details to The New York Times and The Guardian’s Observer, which revealed that University of Cambridge lecturer Aleksandr Kogan had created an app several years ago that could collect profile, location and friends data for hundreds of thousands of people by promising a personality quiz in exchange.
Through those people, he was able to collect friends information from as many as 87 million people’s profiles, Facebook said. Kogan then reportedly passed along all that info to a UK-based political data analytics firm called Cambridge Analytics.
Facebook found out about the episode and in 2015 asked Kogan and Cambridge Analytica to sign documents promising the data had been destroyed. It didn’t publicly disclose any of this until a day before the news stories about the arrangement were published.
The news that Facebook lost control of its users’ data, and that it said nothing publicly in the years since, has raised a fundamental question of trust in the world’s largest social network. Facebook is a free service that makes its money — more than $40 billion in sales in 2017 — by capitalizing on the details and information that its users share.
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Some advertisers have already ditched Facebook, users have started a campaign called #DeleteFacebook on Twitter and prominent tech executives — including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple CEO Tim Cook — have berated the company. Musk, who deleted Tesla and SpaceX pages from Facebook, said the social network gave him “the willies.”
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm,” Zuckerberg said in his prepared testimony. “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.”
Interest in Zuckerberg’s testimony has only been exacerbated by the company’s mishandling of the scandal. Facebook put out a statement late on a Friday before the initial stories were published, then Zuckerberg remained silent for days before finally agreeing to a few interviews. In those interviews, he began the line he’s followed since: He’s sorry, Facebook screwed up, and they’re going to fix this.
Into the lion’s den
Zuckerberg has two jobs while appearing at this week’s hearings. His first is to apologize — believably — according to public relations and policy experts. The second is reassure the lawmakers he’s answering to, who will likely use the event to grandstand