Congresswoman Anna Eshoo keeps her offices in Palo Alto, where Mark Zuckerberg lives, so it was interesting political theater to watch her drilling her constituent about his company’s stewardship of Americans’ personal information.
In a clip distributed by her office to media, Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) gets the CEO to acknowledge that his own data was among the mined information. He also acknowledges that the potential for misuse of psychographic profiling data was discovered by the company as early as 2015. That’s the year before Trump ran for president! Mark, what have you been doing for the past three years?
The Wednesday hearing at the House Energy and Commerce Committee pitted the congresswoman—one of the largest recipients of Facebook’s political contributions—against Zuckerberg, who could be seen pursing his lips and gulping hard during some of the yes/no questions that a time-throttled Eshoo pounded out during her four minutes of interrogation.
“I think the damage done to our democracy relative to Facebook and its platform being weaponized are incalculable,” Eshoo scolded the billionaire. “Enabling the cynical manipulation of American citizens for the purpose of influencing an election is deeply offensive. And it’s very dangerous. Putting our private information on offer without concern for possible misuses I think is simply irresponsible.”
“Do you think you have a moral responsibility to run a platform that protects our democracy? Yes or no?” Eshoo demanded.
Zuckerberg, perhaps startled by the ferocity of being given binary choices, started to answer the question one way, beginning, “Congresswoman,” then momentarily choked on his answer before switching gears and offering a timid “yes.”
She then asked if users affected by the “Cambridge Analytica debacle” had been notified about the data breach. Zuckerberg said yes, explaining that he believed the notification had started Monday,
While Facebook took more than two years to alert its users, it did contact Cambridge Analytica right away. Zuckerberg confirmed under questioning, in which Eshoo frequently interrupted the flustered CEO saying she didn’t have time for a long answer, that “when we learned in 2015 that a Cambridge university researcher associated with the academic institution that built an app.... We shut down the app … We got in touch with them and we demanded they delete any data that they had.”
“Their chief data officer told us that they had,” he said.
A large chunk of Facebook’s support for Eshoo comes from its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, who’s an obvious successor to Zuckerberg if the company’s board decides to follow the Silicon Valley tradition of replacing brilliant young founders who stumble with corporate executives who drive between the lines.