Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday testified before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees.
It was an unprecedented full house, with more than 40 Senators eagerly waiting to question the CEO. This was Zuckerberg’s first appearance before Congress, and he faced immense scrutiny over consumer expectations and the future of data privacy where it involves Facebook. Senators also speculated on what might happen if Facebook can’t solve its privacy invasion issues, and if the government might have to step in and regulate.
Zuckerberg has been hammered with widespread criticism after news broke earlier this year that personal information from up to 87 million Facebook users had been taken without their consent – including information listed on their social media profiles and even private direct messages. The data was harvested through a quiz app and then sold to Cambridge Analytica for $800,000.
Cambridge Analytica, a U.K. political consulting firm that utilizes data mining, then created a tool to influence U.S. elections. It has widely been reported how foreign entities are interfering and meddling in elections, manipulating public opinion and targeting voters; specifically, Russia has been widely accused of election meddling.
Managing and solving the data privacy nightmare has fallen on Zuckerberg’s shoulders. Facebook launched in 2004, when Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old Harvard student. It now has 2 billion monthly active users, and the company employs 27,000 people.
When it comes to identifying “fake news,” protecting users’ data and eliminating foreign interference in elections, Zuckerberg said he is “committed to getting this right.”
Where it concerns the technology either used by groups that are trying to hack the system, so to speak, or technology being used by Facebook to identify such invasions, Zuckerberg described it as an “arms race,” as foreign entities are developing new technology to continue their wrongdoings just as quickly as Facebook is identifying ways to crack them.
And when it comes to more tricky technology such as facial recognition, Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook needs to keep up with technology, or “we’ll fall behind Chinese competitors.”
Many Senators focused on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook learned about the data compromise in 2015, but it did not publicly acknowledge the Cambridge Analytica scandal until this year.
Since then, the social media platform has implemented big changes to make sure app developers – such as the one whose quiz app ended up harvesting data that was later sold – don’t have access to as much information anymore, Zuckerberg said.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Monday released the statement that Zuckerberg made publicly before Congress.
In his written statement, Zuckerberg apologized and said: “But 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. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Watch Zuckerberg’s testimony here: