Zuckerberg gets back to Congress, but leaves some answers vague

By Published on .

Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Capitol Hill in April.
Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Capitol Hill in April. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent more than 450 pages of replies to the questions he left outstanding with lawmakers when he appeared on Capitol Hill to address fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal earlier this year.

During his April testimony, Zuckerberg told members from both houses of Congress numerous times that he would get back to them with detailed replies to their queries into how the company protects privacy, how it targets ads, how it determines what content to censor, and more.

Nearly two months later, got back to them he did. However, the responses Facebook sent to Congress did not provide much in the way of new information.

For example, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota asked Facebook about a survey the company apparently conducted: "The Committee has become aware that Facebook has surveyed users about whether they trust the company to safeguard their privacy," read one of the questions from Thune. "Please provide the Commerce Committee with the results of any such survey."

Facebook ignored the question, and did not provide results. "We are always working to help people understand and control how their data shapes their experience on Facebook," Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

Thune also did not get a direct response to his question about how much consumers would likely have to pay if Facebook sold an ad-free version of its service.

"Like many other free online services, we sell advertising space to third parties. Doing so enables us to offer our services to consumers for free," Zuckerberg wrote. "This is part of our mission to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together."

When he appeared in Washington, for two days in April, Zuckerberg fielded a number of questions about how Facebook collects data on users and non-users. He was asked about how Facebook tracks people across the internet through "like" and "share" buttons and other technology it embeds on websites outside its own.

In the written response, Facebook called this type of data sharing routine. The company even noted that the Senate committee's own website shares data with Facebook competitor Google.

"The Senate Commerce Committee's website shares information with Google and its affiliate DoubleClick and with the analytics company Webtrends," Zuckerberg wrote. "This means that, when a person visits the Committee's website, it sends browser information about their visit to each one of those third parties."

Facebook did reveal that its like and share button appear on almost 9.5 million websites, including 275 million web pages. Facebook also detailed how non-users can contact the company if they feel the company is storing data on them based on their internet habits.

There had been concerns that Facebook did not give those non-users the same ability to request copies of data like regular users had.

"If a person doesn't have a Facebook account but believes Facebook may have information about them, they can contact us to request a copy of their information," the written testimony says, including a link to the request page.

It remains to be seen if Zuckerberg's supplemental written testimony will appease lawmakers, and the company has only drawn more criticism since the weeks since his appearance.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia has called on Facebook to address how Facebook worked with device makers, including Chinese ones, to offer a version of its service on early mobile phones.

Facebook has made a number of changes to its data and privacy policies since it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica allegedly misused information on up to 87 million users. Facebook is auditing thousands of apps that had similar access to data as Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook has said it suspended 200 apps so far while it reviews their potential misuses of data, too.

Most Popular