Mark Zuckerberg is preparing to appear in front of Congress for the first time, where he will be grilled on the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and questioned on possible interference in both the 2016 US election and the Brexit referendum.
This will be an extraordinary test for Facebook’s CEO, who has in the past kept a relatively low profile when it comes to public appearances – unlike many of his peers in Silicon Valley.
He is likely to face some difficult questions across two days of hearings. The Cambridge Analytica scandal saw Facebook inadvertently hand over the personal information of over 87 million people, all because just 250,000 people took a personality quiz. In 2016 Facebook was used by Russian actors to directly try and influence the presidential election.
While it’s likely the hearings will feature plenty of showboating from the politicians tasked with grilling him, it does present Congress with the opportunity to more closely investigate some of the controversies that the social network has generated over the last 24 months.
Expect profuse apologies, plenty of “we will do better” and at least one “I’m still the right person for the job.”
Here are the questions Mark Zuckerberg still needs to answer:
1. Why didn’t Facebook address its data-sharing with apps much earlier?
Aleksander Kogan created the personality quiz in 2013 and, using Facebook’s data-sharing permissions, was able to harvest a vast amount of information. Then in 2014 Facebook dramatically reduced the information that could be shared with third-parties. What prompted this change and perhaps more importantly, considering Facebook Platform was created in 2007, why did it take the company almost seven years to finally start implementing stricter controls on how people’s data was shared?
2. Why didn’t Facebook tell its users about all this back in 2014?
Massive data leaks have become a normal part of the internet landscape in the last few years, and while some companies try and keep these breaches quiet –as was the case with the Uber hack in 2016 – inevitably the world finds out. Considering Facebook is an app that inherently asks for the transparency of its users, why didn’t Facebook reveal the data had been shared and explain the steps it would be taking to stop it from happening again?
3. Should Facebook become a regulated service – like water, gas or electricity?
Zuckerberg has often positioned Facebook as being less like a website and more like a utility that we use. Like all utilities then, should Facebook become regulated, whether by the US congress or through the regulatory bodies of each country within which it is accessed?
While we can’t predict Zuckerberg’s answer, he has supported regulation in the past, and will no doubt bring up his advocacy for the Honest Ads Act, a US bill that aims to crackdown on political advertising on Twitter, Google and Facebook.
4. Can Facebook promise that it will never be used to interfere in an election again?
Zuckerberg himself might not be able to promise this, but it he can set out steps to make sure this does not happen again. In his opening statement Zuckerberg will reveal that Facebook will by the end of 2018 have 20,000 employees whose sole job is to review content online.
He’ll also announce that from now on any advertiser wanting to run an advert (political or not) will need to be authorised. Authorisation will only be given to a person who can confirm location and identity. Once authorised, any advert will need to show users who paid for it. This is happening in the US now and will be rolled out globally over the next few months.
Facebook will also start requiring identity verification for anyone who runs a large page, in the hopes of cutting down on the explosion of pages during the 2016 US election that were able to spread fake news.
5. Are you the best person to be leading this company?
Zuckerberg has never been fully comfortable on camera or in public, and his hands-on attitude towards Facebook suggests that this is a CEO who would probably much rather be coding rather than dealing with the kinds of decisions that would make a world leader sweat. He will no doubt be asked whether he is still the right man to lead the company, after a string of controversies, and criticism that he has not been forthcoming enough in making statements and offering explanations.
Zuckerberg has already state he is “still the right person to lead Facebook” – but that won’t stop Congress putting on pressure once again.
6. Why should users trust Facebook again?
In 2014, Facebook fundamentally failed in its task to keep its users’ data secure when Aleksander Kogan was allowed to share that data with other companies. When it learned that the data had been shared outside of Facebook, it didn’t let its users know. Rather than sending its own team to Cambridge Analytica to check the data had been deleted, it simply asked for standard verification methods to check. As we discovered some four years later, it hadn’t.
Facebook has done a lot since to try and right this wrong, but none of it has been proactive – instead it’s cleaning up after itself. Why should users trust Facebook to be proactive, transparent in future?