Key Takeaways from Zuckerberg’s Appearance Before Congress

Over two days on Capitol Hill, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sustained a combined ten hours of questioning in front of a joint Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. If the aging senate was a warm up round for Zuckerberg, the significantly younger House sent probing questions about Facebook’s privacy concerns that rattled his prepped and polished demeanor. 

Between the two hearings, questions surfaced on Cambridge Analytica, how Facebook tracks people around the web, privacy protections for children, and GDPR.

Here are some of the most notable takeaways from this week’s hearings:

GDPR Endorsement. Sort of.

Mark Zuckerberg sounded out his stance on GDPR loud and clear. “GDPR has a bunch of different important pieces. One is offering controls over [your data] – that we’re doing,” he said, in response to Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL). “The second is around pushing for affirmative consent and putting a control in front of people that walks people through their choices…We’re going to put a tool at the top of people’s apps that walks them through their setting.”

When asked about bringing GDPR to the US, Zuckerberg stopped short of saying that the regulations would work in our economy. “We certainly think it’s worth discussing, and Facebook will be implementing GDPR globally, but it has to be the right regulation.”

Protecting Children’s Data is Paramount

Facing intense questions over Messenger Kids, Zuckerberg faltered a few steps. “Is there any reasons that we couldn’t have just a no-data-sharing policy, period, until you’re 18?” asked Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).

“The reality is that teens often do want to share their opinions publicly,” Zuckerberg said. In side-stepping the question, I anticipate children’s data policy becoming a key tenant of any regulation policies Republican lawmakers bring to the table. That and First Amendment protections seem to be their key focus. And Chick Fil A, courtesy of one Ted Cruz…

Facebook Struggles to Explain Tracking

Numerous times, between both the Senate and the House, Zuckerberg was grilled on device-tracking of users off Facebook. A visibly rankled Zuckerberg failed to answer a simple and direct question: “Do you collect user data through cross-device tracking? And does that include offline data?”

He did later follow up with an explanation for tracking web behavior, pointing to security and ad targeting – a key discussion for our industry. “We [collect] information to make it so that ads are more relevant and work better on those websites,” he said, mentioning that users can opt out of ad targeting.

Of interest for advertisers who depend on Facebook: A paid platform could potentially disrupt how advertisers target consumers on Facebook, but such discussions seem to be only in preliminary consideration stages.

We Need Younger Politicians in Office

Perhaps the most concerning element of the whole affair, for both marketers and people outside of the industry, is that the politicians sitting on the Senate are just too out of touch with the way tech operates. CMO’s, CTO’s, and developers in Silicon Valley, among many others, are outraged at the clear lack of understanding on the bench.

For cogent regulations to appear – ones that won’t completely decimate our business practices in a digital age – we’ll need to elect technologically dexterous senators and representatives, regardless of political affiliation, come midterms 2018.

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