Considering the ubiquity of his name and his supposed genius over the past 14 years, one can be forgiven for forgetting that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, is only 33 years old. But during his two days of testimony on Capitol Hill this past Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg finally looked his age.
Despite attempts to seem calm and confident — Mr. Zuckerberg faux-enthusiastically brushed off offers for a break on several occasions after he received difficult questions — the Facebook CEO did not paint an endearing portrait of his company’s services.
Facing several pointed questions on the privacy concerns of Facebook users, Mr. Zuckerberg frequently confirmed suspicions about his company’s handling of data, including an admission that Facebook had not properly prevented the data firm Cambridge Analytica from accessing users’ data. Mr. Zuckerberg also stated he would be open to possible regulation of how companies like his handle users’ data.
But Mr. Zuckerberg also echoed some of his previous statements in which he seemed to blame users. He pointed out that many of Facebook’s most controversial data collection practices ask users to opt-in to the service. What Mr. Zuckerberg did not clearly address was whether users could sufficiently understand what they were consenting to.
Certainly users need to become more sophisticated and less careless with their personal information when they use digital products. Mr. Zuckerberg, himself, admitted that most users do not alter the default privacy settings, which inadqueately shield users from instrusive data collection schemes. We have known that for years; it was not a revelation sparked by this incident.
But what the Facebook data-misuse scandal likely did reveal is that consumers should not be left to fight the privacy fight on their own. Congress can and must step in with some new regulation regarding what data Facebook and similar companies can collect and what they can do with it.
Clearly, consumer education is not going to accomplish what federal law is meant to do.
Congress should create an information consumer bill of rights that clearly defines how tech companies may handle consumer data and what users can expect. It must spell out some serious penalties for the misuse or neglectful treatment of personal data.
Mark Zuckerberg’s time before Congress was a far cry from the slick presentations he usually makes when promoting his company. He was, however, able to leave the hearings feeling confident. The congressmen questioning Mr. Zuckerberg did not seem to understand many of the basic functionalities of Facebook. And there is still reason to believe that Congress may have been treating him with kid gloves.
WILL TOMER: We need an information consumer’s bill of rights
On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg answered questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The House Energy and Commerce Committee received more money from Facebook’s political action committee — $381,000 since 2007 — than any other congressional panel. The committee that has received the second-largest contribution is the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which questioned Mr. Zuckerberg on Tuesday alongside the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The discomfort of congressional questioning is an unfamiliar sensation for Mr. Zuckerberg, who is reportedly considering a presidential run in 2020. Congress must ensure that its questions continue to be pointed and insightful, in spite of previous political contributions, and Mr. Zuckerberg must be held to account for his company’s reckless policies.
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