Greetings from Washington, D.C.! We are settled in the hearing room at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill awaiting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who will answer questions from Senators today about Facebook’s data privacy practices in the wake of the company’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Zuckerberg is set to appear in less than an hour — and we’ll be updating live from inside the hearing room all afternoon. (Sounds like the hearing could be as long as four hours!)
Here’s how you can watch the hearing live (or watch in PBS NewsHour’s YouTube video above). And here’s how you can figure out if your personal data was part of the data set collected by Cambridge Analytica back in 2013.
Reminder: This is the first of two hearings for Zuckerberg this week. Tomorrow he’ll be back to take questions from the House Commerce Committee. Today, the questions will come from two different Senate committees: The Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. There are expected to be 44 Senators here today asking questions — so many that they had to add a second row of chairs and microphones.
2:07 pm ET: Hello! I’m here inside the hearing room and we’re all waiting for Zuckerberg. The hearing was supposed to start at 2:15 pm ET, but sounds like it has been pushed back a bit to accommodate a Senate vote taking place around the same time. Still, it’s tight quarters in here. I’m counting more than 70 members of the press, not including all of these photographers waiting to get a picture of Zuckerberg seated in his chair.
2:14 pm ET: A few more details about the scene here — there is a line of people waiting to get in that I would estimate extends over 100 yards. The first woman in line told me she got here at 7:15 this morning, and there are dozens more cameras waiting to capture Zuckerberg walking in. Directly behind the press table in the first row of seats are members of Facebook’s communications team, including Facebook’s VP of Global Communications and Public Policy Elliot Schrage, who is sitting next to his son. On the other side of us, right behind where Zuckerberg will sit, is Facebook’s General Counsel Colin Stretch, who testified here last fall about Russian ads on Facebook.
2:18 pm ET: We have a few protestors in the building. They were silent, but every photographer here got pictures of these signs (I did my best from my seat).
2:26 pm ET: Everyone just got super quiet, though nothing appears to be happening. A few Senators have started to take their seats. I can see Ted Cruz. Still awaiting Zuckerberg. Most of the Senate seats are still empty.
2:29 pm ET: Zuckerberg just walked in with Facebook’s VP of Policy Joel Kaplan behind him. There are thousands of camera clicks coming from the photo gallery. He shook hands with a few Senators, posed for the cameras, and now we are under way.
2:35 pm ET: We are starting with opening statements from Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. There are still a number of empty seats here for Senators not present. Here’s a look at the view I have from my seat in the press section.
2:46 pm ET: We are still hearing opening statements from the Senators. Most of what’s being said is the kind of stuff you have heard before. They’ve commented on Facebook’s size, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein outlined the Cambridge Analytica situation. (They’d like to hold a second hearing directly on that issue, according to Grassley.) Grassley also summarized Facebook’s ad business and data collection practices. Everyone is excited to hear from Zuckerberg, etc.
2:50 pm ET: Sen. Bill Nelson just summarized things pretty well with his opening statement. “Let me just cut to the chase,” he said. “If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are gonna have privacy anymore. That’s what we’re facing.”
2:53 pm ET: Zuckerberg is finally reading his testimony, which he submitted to the committee yesterday. You can read it in full here. “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” he just said. That’s why Zuckerberg is here answering questions and not someone else.
2:59 pm ET: The testimonies and opening statements are all over. We are starting the Q&A now with Grassley, who reminded everyone they only get five minutes. (Thank god.) I will likely update sparingly here instead of writing an exhaustive recap of every exchange.
The first question was whether or not Facebook is aware of any other Cambridge Analytica-type situations with other developers or data firms. Zuckerberg repeated what Facebook said a few weeks ago: That the company is looking for any other potential bad actors, and will audit companies that it thinks may have had improper access to lots of user data.
3:10 pm ET: Next up: Sen. Nelson. He asked if Facebook is considering a business model where users could pay for an ad-free service.
Zuckerberg: There is a way for users to opt out of Facebook targeting them with ads based on the data they have about each user. That would mean Facebook would still show them ads, just not personalized ads. “Even though some people don’t like ads, people really don’t like ads that aren’t relevant,” Zuckerberg said. He also clarified that Facebook doesn’t “offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads.” It doesn’t sound like a subscription model is something Facebook is seriously considering.
3:16 pm ET: Sen. Feinstein is asking Zuckerberg, pointedly, about what it is doing to try and avoid another Russian election ads scenario. Zuckerberg said that one of his greatest regrets running Facebook is not identifying Russian “information operations” around the 2016 election fast enough. (“Information operations” is code for fake news and Russian propaganda aimed at hurting public discourse.) When Feinstein asked when he first became aware of those efforts, Zuckerberg said it was “right around the time of the 2016 election itself.”
3:20 pm ET: Feinstein just asked another good question, and one Zuckerberg says he asked his own team a few weeks ago: Why didn’t Facebook ban Cambridge Analytica back in 2015 when it first found out they were collecting user info in ways that violated its terms?
Zuckerberg said that Cambridge Analytica wasn’t using Facebook back in 2015. They weren’t an advertiser, they weren’t operating any pages. “We had nothing to ban,” he says.
3:23 pm ET: First chuckle of the day (at least from me) comes thanks to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch: How do you expect to keep your business going longterm without charging users?
Zuckerberg, after an awkward pause: “Senator, we run ads.”
3:24 pm ET: Zuckerberg was asked what kind of regulation he would be okay with. As you might expect, Zuckerberg mentioned stuff that Facebook already does. He said he thinks that companies should create a “simple and practical way” for people to determine what data companies collect from them and how it’s used. Facebook just rewrote its terms of service to try and accomplish this very thing, and it’s part of the requirements for the upcoming GDPR privacy regulations in the EU the company plans to comply with. He also talked about giving people control over the stuff they post — which he says Facebook already does.
3:30 pm ET: When asked if privacy rules from Europe — the GDPR rules — should be applied in the U.S., Zuckerberg said he thinks “everyone in the world deserves good privacy protections.” He said that Facebook plans to implement key aspects of GDPR to all of its users, though it might not be absolutely identical in each country.
3:37 pm ET: Zuckerberg was just asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy if he or anyone at Facebook was working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Zuckerberg said yes, someone at Facebook is working with the Special Counsel, but not Zuckerberg himself. It was a weird exchange, mostly because Zuckerberg said he didn’t want to say something that was confidential, but he ultimately settled on saying he was “not aware” of whether or not Facebook has been subpoenaed, but “I know that we’re working with them.”
3:44 pm ET: Sen. Lindsey Graham is the first Senator really getting testy with Zuckerberg. He keeps cutting him off. First, he brought up the Andrew “Boz” Bosworth memo about Facebook growing at all costs that leaked a few weeks ago, and asked why Zuckerberg allowed Boz to publish it internally. Graham said he would have fired an employee who shared those kinds of opinions. Zuckerberg said he tries to run Facebook in a way where people can express their own opinions, even if they are unpopular.
Then Graham started asking Zuckerberg who his biggest competitor was. Graham asked where he could go to use a social network if he didn’t want to use Facebook. Obviously, there was no real good answer from Zuckerberg. Graham then asked if Facebook was a monopoly. “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg replied.
3:52 pm ET: This was a few minutes ago. Graham asked Zuckerberg if the average person reads the Facebook terms of service, where the company outlines most of the rules around what it collects and how it’s used. “I don’t think that the average person likely reads that whole document,” Zuckerberg said. No kidding!
3:55 pm ET: Sen. Amy Klobuchar just asked Zuckerberg if he would support a rule that stipulates companies need to notify users within 72 hours of a data breach happening.
Zuckerberg said that that makes sense to him.
If you’re wondering why Facebook never alerted people about Cambridge Analytica then, it’s because Facebook doesn’t consider what happened there a breach. No one hacked Facebook or stole data from the company’s servers. The data walked out the door the way it was supposed to — it was just mishandled by the people who collected it.
That’s what Facebook would tell you, at least. Which explains why Zuckerberg can say he agrees to alert people of a breach, but why Facebook never alerted people about Cambridge Analytica.
4:07 pm ET: “I agree that we’re responsible for the content.”
That was Zuckerberg talking about Facebook’s responsibility for the stuff its users post to the service. What makes that responsibility tough is that Zuckerberg told Recode just a few weeks ago that he is “fundamentally uncomfortable” making content decisions for Facebook. That’s a bad combo.
4:11 pm ET: Ahh! They just tried to give Zuckerberg (and us) a break since it has been about two hours. Zuckerberg smiled and said he wanted to keep going. “We can do a few more ... maybe 15 minutes?” So we are doing a few more.
Interesting: When Zuckerberg did a conference call with reporters last week, he actually did this same thing. When the moderator tried to end questioning, he asked to keep going. I thought it made him sound confident. Seems like a good strategy. I don’t need a break. Bring it on.
4:19 pm ET: Sen. Ted Cruz is now going hard after Zuckerberg, and implying that Facebook is biased against conservatives. His first question was whether or not Facebook is a “neutral public forum.” (Zuckerberg said it’s a platform for all ideas.) Then Cruz asked why Palmer Lucky was fired, asking whether or not it was for his political beliefs. (It was learned in 2016 that Lucky was supporting a conservative Pro-Trump group that created anti-Hillary memes.) Zuckerberg said he was not fired for his politics, but didn’t go into more detail.
4:22 pm ET: Okay, here is our five-minute break. I think Zuckerberg looks pretty solid so far. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t stumbled on any of the questions (which haven’t been as tough as I expected), and seems pretty calm. It’s clear a few of these politicians don’t know a ton about how Facebook works.
4:34 pm ET: We’re back from the break and Zuckerberg started by issuing a correction to something he said earlier, which was that Cambridge Analytica wasn’t banned from Facebook in 2015 because Cambridge Analytica wasn’t on Facebook in 2015. Zuckerberg says that, actually, Cambridge Analytica started advertising on Facebook in late 2015. “We could have, in theory, banned them then. We made a mistake by not doing so,” he said.
4:42 pm ET: More questions for Zuckerberg about whether or not Facebook should interfere with what people post to the service. Zuckerberg says that the company shouldn’t interfere with stuff that doesn’t fall into obvious buckets — nudity, self-harm, terrorist content, etc. This has been Facebook’s stance for a long time, and part of the reason it’s hard for Facebook to monitor stuff the way some people would like.
4:44 pm ET: Interesting that many of the Senators come and go throughout this process. Lots of empty chairs right now.
4:51 pm ET: Here’s another example of how Senators don’t necessarily know how Facebook and its products work. Sen. Brian Schatz asked multiple times if his WhatsApp messages could be used to inform the ads he sees. Zuckerberg replied multiple times that WhatsApp messages are fully encrypted — which means no, Facebook cannot read them. Schatz is certainly not the only one with that question, but the exchange shows how Facebook has to routinely help people understand how its services work on a pretty basic level.
4:59 pm ET: It feels like this hearing is losing some steam. Much of the past two exchanges were about getting to a basic understanding of how Facebook’s products and services work. Now Sen. Chris Coons is using the bulk of his five minutes talking about his own Facebook experience. He finally ended with one question: Why does Facebook put the burden of flagging inappropriate content on users instead of protecting them itself?
Zuckerberg: We need to do better on content policy. There is a lot of content to go through, we’re hiring more people, etc. Feels like we are starting to get more and more repeat questions and answers.
5:06 pm ET: I’ve been waiting for someone to play the “dad card” on Zuckerberg, who has two little girls. Sen. Ben Sasse finally asked Zuckerberg what he thought, as a dad, about social media addiction.
Zuckerberg: “This is certainly something that every parent thinks about, is how much do you want your kids using technology.” He said that Facebook wants to build services that people like but that are also good for society. Zuckerberg repeated the general idea that Facebook has been sharing for a few months now, which is that social media can be good for you if you are using it to engage with more people, not for passively scrolling.
5:16 pm ET: We are almost three hours into this hearing and I am not sure that we have really learned anything new yet about Facebook and the way it collects or uses data. That is great news for Facebook. If we all walk away from this week, after hours of questioning from U.S. lawmakers, and don’t have any new headlines about Facebook’s data policies, I think the company will consider that a win.
5:22 pm ET: Sen. Mazie Hirono asked Zuckerberg if he would help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) use social media data to profile immigrants under its “extreme vetting” initiative. That would mean using Facebook to determine if an immigrant would be likely to commit a crime or likely to contribute positively to society.
“We would not proactively do that,” Zuckerberg said. Immigration is a big issue for Zuckerberg, who is a huge supporter of Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Zuckerberg added that Facebook only assists law enforcement with users’ persona data when it is required to.
5:26 pm ET: Laughter. I just heard laughter. People are smiling!
Sen. Dan Sullivan said Zuckerberg’s story was miraculous — from dorm room to massive company. He asked Zuckerberg, “Only in America, would you agree with that?”
Zuckerberg hesitated, then said “mostly in America” before mentioning some “very strong Chinese internet companies.”
Sullivan replied: “You’re supposed to answer yes to this question. C’mon, I’m trying to help you! Give me a break! The answer is ‘yes.’” Everyone laughed. It was nice.
5:37 pm ET: Oh wow. They just said we are almost two-thirds of the way through questions. After three and a half hours. Buckle up, folks.
5:46 pm ET: Sen. Cory Booker used all of his time to address specific issues of discrimination, including a “lack of urgency” that some believe Facebook is showing when it comes to diversifying its workforce. Booker also asked if Zuckerberg was committed to protecting civil rights activists so they are not targeted on Facebook. Zuckerberg said that he would, and they only help law enforcement look into personal information about users when they are required to by law.
I was told before this hearing that members of the Congressional Black Caucus might be particularly tough on Zuckerberg. (Booker is a member.) Booker was not necessarily tougher than anyone else, but all of his questions were specific to issues of race and discrimination.
5:55 pm ET: Sen. Dean Heller asked Zuckerberg if he thought he was a victim in the Cambridge Analytica situation. He said no. He asked if he thought Facebook was a victim. He said no. He asked if the 87 million people whose data may have ended up in CA’s hands were victims. Zuckerberg said yes.
“They did not want their information to be sold to Cambridge Analytica by a developer,” he said. “Even though we didn’t do it, I think we have a responsibility to be able to prevent that and be able to take action sooner.”
I feel like Facebook played the “we are a victim” card a bit when this all first came to light last month. The idea that this was because of “bad actors,” but not because of Facebook, didn’t sit super well right away. Zuckerberg has started to take much more responsibility in recent weeks.
6:01 pm ET: We’ve reached our second break of the day. Right before this, Zuckerberg was asked about one of my favorite Facebook conspiracy theories: Does Facebook use your phone’s microphone to listen to what you say and then show you ads based on that info?
Zuckerberg said no, this doesn’t happen. The company gets this question so often it even published a blog post about it in mid-2016. Some of those Facebook ads and friend recommendations are definitely creepy, though. Here’s how the company decides who you might want to add as a friend, in case you were wondering.
6:15 pm ET: We are back, and by my count have about 12 Senators left. Which means we’re another hour from being done here. Zuckerberg seems to be fine. Sen. Thom Tillis is helping. He isn’t asking any questions at all, and instead is saying that there shouldn’t be “heavy-handed” government that comes in and oversteps on regulation. He finished his time without asking a serious question.
6:19 pm ET: Here comes Sen. Kamala Harris, who immediately says she is concerned. She is pointing out a number of questions Zuckerberg has not answered well today — including that he couldn’t really name a legitimate Facebook competitor. (Monopoly, anyone?) She asked Zuckerberg if he was part of a conversation inside Facebook where they decided not to inform users about the Cambridge Analytica situation at the time. He said he isn’t aware of any conversation like that that took place.
Harris wants accountability. She’s asking who decided, in December 2015, that users didn’t need to know about Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg said again, “In retrospect, that was a mistake.”
Yes, WHY were users NOT notified. @KamalaHarris is dead on about trust in platform.— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) April 10, 2018
Harris is being tough here. She was one of the Senators I was warned to look out for before this hearing — many believe she’ll make a presidential run in 2020 and this is a chance to be tough on a big tech company in her home state. She just ran out of time, but her ultimate point landed: She doesn’t think there was anyone driving the ship in 2015 when Facebook failed to notify people of the Cambridge Analytica situation.
6:27 pm ET: Here is the one-liner of the day from Sen. John Kennedy: “Your user agreement sucks.” He’s challenging Zuckerberg to go rewrite his terms “in plain English” so people can actually understand them. Facebook actually just did that, or tried to do that.
He also told Zuckerberg that whether or not Congress ultimately regulates Facebook will be up to him. Ball’s in your court, Zuckerberg!
6:39 pm ET: Zuckerberg was just asked a question I also asked him last week: Has there been a notable change in users since this Cambridge Analytica scandal happened? “Senator, there have not,” Zuckerberg replied.
This is a big deal. Facebook could be punished for Cambridge Analytica — there could be more regulation coming, for example. But Facebook isn’t being punished where it would really hurt, which is in user growth. That might be scarier than the idea of bipartisan regulation.
6:43 pm ET: Stock update alert while things seem to be slowing down. Facebook was up 4.5 percent on the day — and hasn’t given any of that back in after-hours trading. Nothing Zuckerberg is saying is spooking any investors.
6:47 pm ET: Here is another call to regulate Facebook, this one from Sen. Maggie Hassan. Zuckerberg said, again, that Facebook is open to regulation, so long as it’s the right regulation. I wrote yesterday that this hearing would be more about Facebook and Zuckerberg’s reputation than it would be about hashing out potential regulation. I still think that’s partly the case, though we have heard some interesting arguments today for regulation beyond the Honest Ads Act and the EU’s GDPR privacy regulations. It seems very clear that there will be attempted regulation down the road; the question is whether or not it will actually come to fruition.
7:07 pm ET: Things are getting very very slow as we wind down. Most of the Senate chairs are empty, most of the photographers appear to have packed up their equipment. We are still getting questions here about how Facebook is responding to Cambridge Analytica — Zuckerberg says the company will take legal action if their audit of Cambridge Analytica isn’t sufficient. Sen. Jon Tester says he doesn’t think Facebook will be able to conduct a full audit. It’s a fair point. By now, it seems very likely that any data Cambridge Analytica collected could be destroyed or hidden somewhere it will be hard for Facebook to find.
7:25 pm ET: After more than five hours, we’re finally done. Zuckerberg got up and shook hands with a few of the Senators still here, including Grassley and Kennedy, and then exited out the back of the room.
My super quick two cents: This has to be a win for Facebook. At least for now. I thought Zuckerberg came off as smart and respectful, and I don’t think anyone would watch this and be more angry with Facebook than when the hearing started. There were some interesting ideas floated with regards to regulation, but ideas are a far way from reality, and I am not convinced that everyone in this room was eager to put more restrictions around Facebook and its business.
For now, we’ll call that a night. We’ll be back tomorrow when Zuckerberg testifies before the House Commerce Committee at 10 am ET. See you then!
7:56 pm ET: One last thing! The AP has a shot of Zuckberg’s notes from today’s hearing. A few interesting things from there:
- On Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comments about Facebook’s model: “At FB, we try hard to charge you less. In fact, we’re free.”
- On whether Facebook employees should have been fired for the Cambridge Analytica scandal: “It’s how we designed the platform. That was my responsibility. Not going to throw people under the bus.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.