In the wake of his company’s Cambridge Analytica scandal — which exposed the data of 87 million users to the British consulting firm and resulted in a loss of tens of billions of dollars in stock value — Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to Washington this week to testify before both the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees. Their focus on day one? Just exactly what kind of personal data Facebook collects from its users and how it’s utilized.
Speaking before the Senate committees on Monday, Zuckerberg fielded questions for nearly five hours straight, shedding light on the monetization of the social media platform and, in particular, the way in which Facebook doles out the data it collects with regards to targeted advertising. The thirty-three-year-old billionaire was quick to own up to the fact that Facebook shares virtually all of the data it collects and can track its two billion users with ease, even going so far as to collect and distribute “offline” information, including users’ location data, and what other apps a user accesses on his or her phone. The platform then sells that information to companies who match it to purchases and individual Facebook user profiles. As Zuckerberg pointed out, however, users have the option to opt out of certain data-collecting features and consent to what they do and do not share.
However, government officials and the public alike bristle at the notion that users are truly in control of what they share on the platform; most don’t even read the disclosures they’re supposedly consenting to, much less understand them. “Technically, Facebook’s users can turn off targeted advertisements or disable sensitive features such as image recognition in photos. (I couldn’t figure out how to do the latter, and I write about technology for a living.) Zuckerberg believes he’s giving users control, but he’s giving them the illusion of control. And that means the consent of Facebook users is not informed,” says Bloomberg‘s Shira Ovide.
Ultimately, Zuckerberg’s statements and the Cambridge Analytica scandal as a whole could go a long way toward changing the way in which users engage with social media and just what they elect to share with the platforms they use. Could location tracking be disabled by default? Could offline data collection be banned entirely? In the years to come, it’ll be interesting to see just how Facebook’s missteps inform the future of social networking and the laws that govern it.
Catch a recap of yesterday’s testimony below and tune in to today’s livestream above.