The F Word Podcast: Ep.08 "Facebook doesn't care about your privacy and Zuckerberg visits Congress”

Since before founding Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg apologizes for violating the privacy of others. The first time was in 2003 when he used unauthorized photos of Harvard students in the first prototype of his social network called Facemash.

He apologized again in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010, signed a behavior adjustment agreement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2011, and since then, several times he has apologized for different aspects of the way user data is collected. Every time he said he was sorry, and that he would try hard to change.

That is what happened again this week when Mark Zuckerberg went to Capitol Hill and faced two days of questioning about Facebook business activities, users’ privacy and the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg's trip to the US Congress comes after the scandal of improper data manipulation of 87 million users by Cambridge Analytica, a political marketing agency that worked for Donald Trump during the 2016 election race and the UK exit campaign called Brexit.

What's different now? At the age of 33, has Zuckerberg finally realized that his company must submit to human laws and take the natural responsibilities of a monopoly that gathers countless information about the lives of 2 billion people, even if they do not register on the network? 

Hard to believe. Just look at his evasive answers to find that his nearly five-hour statement was nothing more than a public relations initiative. The market applauded, and Zuckerberg leaves the Capitol Hill 3 billion dollars richer. He did not fool the users though, who are now more aware of Facebook's activities. 

Facebook may not care about your privacy, the same way it does for its top tear executives who have a special unmonitored account, but unfortunately for them, users are in the end humans, and will always want their unconditional right for privacy.

If you watched the news this week, you probably know that Mark Zuckerberg who is the founder and CEO of Facebook went to hearing on congress to explain Facebook’s latest scandal.

I will summarize today what happened last Wednesday.

Mark Zuckerberg lied and as I said before managing to convince the market that he was coming clean. But his answers did not convince the senators nor the public. It is almost inevitable that Facebook will have to undergo tougher regulation of users' rights, perhaps in terms as rigid as the European Data Protection General Regulation (GDPR).

Sometimes Zuckerberg seems to live in another moral reality when he denies and lies about things that are already of public knowledge. Just this week, in front of the senators, he was forced to acknowledge that Facebook had known since 2015 that Cambridge Analytica collected data from users - did nothing at the time to prevent this and preferred not to warn those affected, believing that the issue "was resolved ".

Many senators have not prepared for the questioning and showed complete ignorance regarding Facebook business. Orrin Hatch, for example, came to the absurdity of asking Zuckerberg how Facebook made money if it did not charge its users. "We sell ads," he replied in disbelief. Let’s listen.

Others were ruled by party interests. Ted Cruz, the first to rely on CA services which is a pre-campaign application that collected Facebook data since 2015, preferred to insist on the anti-conservative bias of the network and how only democrat publishers made to the most-read list on the social network. For me this was the highlight of the evening, as I mentioned live on Twitter. Let’s listen to Senator Cruz:

Tom Tills and Chuck Grassley argued that Barack Obama's campaign used the same CA tactics. (It's true that Obama's marketers pioneered micro-segmented ads, but they obtained data by legal means, with consent.)

Only a few senators have subjected Zuckerberg to issues of general interest. Richard Blumenthal said there was "strong evidence that the company shamelessly violated" the term of conduct signed with the FTC in 2011 and did not take the slightest care of the election propaganda, coming from Russian agents or anonymous groups. Lindsey Graham drew from Zuckerberg a tacit acknowledgment that his company is a monopoly with no relevant competitors.

To Senator Maria Cantwell, Zuckerberg made an awkward statement about the involvement in data collection of Palantir, a provider of intelligence services founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, a member of the Facebook Board of Trump and Trump's Silicon Valley.

Zuckerberg coiled up to justify the presence of a Facebook employee in the Trump campaign. He was fortunate not to be asked about Joseph Chancellor, one of the creators of Cambridge Analytica's assessment tests for his "psychometric profiles," who worked to elect Trump, then was hired by Facebook.

He contradicted himself by admitting that he learned of the use of the social network by Russian agents in 2016 rather than in 2017, as he had previously argued. It was unfortunate to say that AI technologies have been successful in removing terrorist content (not true, according to the Counter Extremism Project).

He denied that he collects data without authorization from Internet users (which is a false statement since Facebook obtain data even from those who do not have an account, as Daniel Gillmor reports on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union). He hesitated to acknowledge even collecting the private text messages exchanged by users of Android smartphones.

He was evasive not to clarify what kind of control someone might have about the data itself. He did not mention that even when erased, users information do not disappear from Facebook servers - except by using a special feature available only to Zuckerberg and Facebook executives.

The most embarrassing moment was when he engaged the following dialogue with Senator Dick Durbin:

Pressured, Zuckerberg said he would accept legislation regulating data collection and at the same time he has also changed its position on the laws regarding election propaganda on the internet. Now it is inevitable that Congress will now try to legislate on the subject.

But it is doubtful that it will hit his hand. Most probably, the European GDPR example, is that they establish a series of rules with which the user has to consent for their data to be used. This would only help to root the monopoly of companies that already have such data, such as Facebook.

The correct thing would be to allow anyone to own their own data and could migrate them from one social network to another, with a guarantee that they would be erased from the first one. It would be a way of creating competition where there is a monopoly today. For this, however, Facebook would have to undergo changes greater than just Zuckerberg clothes on Capitol.