Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony for the US Congressional House energy and commerce committee, where he’ll be grilled on April 11, was published today (April 9). Much of it mirrors previous Facebook conference calls and statements, and his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow (April 10) could look very similar.
And that’s a problem, a group of tech and Congressional experts who reviewed his House remarks told Quartz.
Facebook already faces mounting criticism over how Zuckerberg and other managers have handled Russia’s use of its platform to interfere in the US 2016 presidential election, particularly for their slowness in acknowledging the problem and their lack of transparency.
Zuckerberg’s House testimony, as prepared, contains several glaring holes and omissions that may prompt deep interrogations from members of Congress after he delivers his prepared remarks, experts said. His appearance in front of the Senate committee on Tuesday could be particularly fraught—the committee oversees the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security, and many of the senators on it are former prosecutors, adept at pressing witnesses in public.
Zuckerberg is already on Capitol Hill tonight, meeting privately with senators. Here’s what he could get grilled on publicly tomorrow:
The scope of FB’s data privacy problem
Zuckerberg’s testimony focuses on Cambridge Analytica, a data firm used by the Trump campaign and backed by Trump political supporter Robert Mercer, which improperly accessed the information of 87 million Facebook users. But that’s just one of thousands or maybe millions of companies with access to Facebook user data.
Zuckerberg needs to disclose how many other companies there are out there like Cambridge Analytica, and how much data they have, says Raj Goyle, a former Kansas state legislator and ex-Congressional candidate, who now is the co-CEO of legal tech platform Bodhala. Facebook also needs to commit to telling individual Americans which apps specifically have access to their Facebook data, through their own accounts or their friends.
“Cambridge Analytica is not an isolated incident,” Goyle said.
The company’s huge profits and monopoly
Facebook has more than 2 billion users, and in many countries functions as the entire internet. Its reach and power is unprecedented, and many have raised concerns about its dominance. “What is missing from his testimony? Try $40 billion,” says Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Market Institute and expert on monopolies. “That is how much revenue Facebook had last year. If he’s not willing to discuss Facebook’s monopoly power, he’s not willing to talk about the underlying problem.”
If lawmakers agree, this perception, of Facebook as a monopoly, could be one of the biggest threats to the company’s future, potentially spurring antitrust regulation.
A need for new leadership
In a conference call with reporters last week, Zuckerberg was asked whether he’s the right person to lead the company going forward, to which he gave a resounding “Yes.” Another reporter asked him whether the board had been thinking of replacing him with someone else, to which he says, “Not that I’m aware of.” He could face a similar question from lawmakers.
“Mark Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony highlights a simple fact: He doesn’t understand how a large, global and publicly-held company is run. He currently has two jobs at Facebook—CEO and chairman of the board. It’s time for him to give up at least one, if not both, titles,” said Michael Connor, head of Open MIC, an activist investor group that coordinates Facebook investors to demand change, in a statement.
“The notion that Mr. Zuckerberg ‘runs’ Facebook himself is at the heart of the company’s problems. Facebook has more than 25,000 employees,” Connor said, adding that it’s time for the board to “provide adult supervision” to the powerful platform. “Facebook has more than 2 billion regular monthly users all around the globe. With such a scale and massive impact on society, the company must fundamentally redesign itself to rein in its most risky and destructive tendencies.”
How Facebook plans to change its business model
Cambridge Analytica’s data grab and Russia’s interference in the US election happened because of Facebook’s business model, Goyle and others said. “That doesn’t come through in the testimony at all,” Goyle said. There’s nothing in the testimony to suggest that Facebook is considering any fundamental changes to the way that it makes money.
“‘Trust Zuck’ is not a corporate governance philosophy that I have faith in,” he said.
How Facebook tipped off US authorities
One piece of news in Zuckerberg’s testimony is the disclosure that the company did, in fact, find evidence of Russian political meddling in the months before the 2016 election, in the form of military intelligence-linked accounts. The accounts, going by DC Leaks, “created fake personas that were used to seed stolen information to journalists,” and were shut down, Zuckerberg says. The discovery was reported previously, but this is the first time Facebook has admitted it.
He doesn’t say, though, how the company conveyed that information to US authorities, or offer any details about the company’s ongoing cooperation with law enforcement. Facebook’s cooperation with the FBI has been a sore spot for previous Congressional committees. Expect some tough questions here.
Facebook’s real ad transparency
This is the first time lawmakers get to to ask the Facebook CEO what the company is doing to avoid future meddling by foreign actors in upcoming US elections, and there’s a lot of unanswered questions about the company’s pledge to be more transparent around political advertising.
“What are Facebook’s plans for self-regulation?,” asked Brendan Fischer, director for federal and FEC reform at the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center. It is still unclear what the platforms considers to be a political ad, he said, or how the company will verify the identity of advertisers and page administrators.
Will they verify that the group is real, or that the person who started it is a real person, Fischer asked, and what is the platform going to show users? The company said earlier it will confirm advertisers’ location, but how are they going to be able to determine where an ad’s financing actually comes from, Fischer asks.
Why Facebook did more in France
Zuckerberg’s testimony says, “In France, leading up to the presidential election in 2017, we found and took down 30,000 fake accounts.” The company is using that figure in this testimony to show how robust its AI tools are.
When Senator Mark Warner compared that figure unfavorably to the just 470 Russian accounts Facebook removed in the US ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook specified that the French figure refers to all accounts, not just Russians. It makes no such distinction here and appears to be trying to create the opposite impression.