Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before a joint committee hearing of the United States Senate.
His appearance comes in the wake of a string of scandals – most recently from Cambridge Analytica improperly obtaining as many as 87 million users’ personal data, but also the intense blowback the company has faced over fake news and its role in Russian interference in American elections.
Business Insider is in attendance at the hearing, and will be bringing readers all the news live – scroll down for the latest updates, including a livestream.
7:24 p.m. ET: It’s over.
After around five hours of testimony, the hearing is finally over. We’ll have a recap up soon.
7:08 p.m. ET: Facebook user data has never been compromised in a hack
Zuckerberg says he’s not aware of any instance in which a hack has compromised user data. It has been hacked before — some employees have been compromised with malware — but that didn’t affect user data.
7:00 p.m. ET: Home stretch!
Less than half a dozen senators to go!
6:51 p.m. ET: Not all the questioning is particularly sophisticated.
Some of the questioning Mark Zuckerberg has faced has not been technically savvy, and the CEO at times has found himself explaining basic features of the social network.
Under questioning from Senator Capito, the 33-year-old had to explain the difference between deleting and deactivating user accounts, and whether Facebook takes a cut of sales of products on Facebook.
He has also repeated ad nauseum throughout the hearing that Facebook doesn’t actually sell user data.
6:43 p.m. ET: Facebook has considered a paid, ad-free option, Zuckerberg says.
Facebook has considered a paid-for, ad-free version of Facebook, Zuckerberg says. “In general we believe the ad model is the right one for us,” he says — but “certainly we consider ideas like that … [it is] reasonable to think through.”
6:31 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg told: “Your user agreement sucks.”
Senator Kennedy from Louisiana bluntly tells Mark Zuckerberg: “Your user agreement sucks.”
In a rambling question, the senator critiques the social media company’s terms of service, asserting that “the purpose of that user agremeent is to cover Facebook’s rear end. It’s not to inform users about their rights.”
(Note that Zuckerberg admitted earlier in the hearing that he doesn’t believe users read the terms of service before agreeing.)
When it comes to the questions, however, Kennedy’s questioning is fairly unenlightening: Most of the things he requested (will Facebook let him delete his data? Will Facebook let him download his data?) are already implemented.
6:03 p.m. ET: Break time.
Still here? Good. It’s time for another five-minute break.
6:01 p.m ET: Mark Zuckerberg denies Facebook is using your phone’s microphone to spy on you
Mark Zuckerberg has shot down one of the biggest conspiracy theories around Facebook: That the company is secretly using your phone’s microphone to spy on you and inform the adverts it shows you.
Democratic senator Gary Peters asked the Facebook CEO about the rumour, which Facebook has repeatedly denied before.
Zuckerberg flatly denied it.
5:57 p.m. ET: 3+ hours in, we’re two-thirds of the way through.
After more than three hours, we’re now around two-thirds of the way through.
There are now empty seats in the hall, meaning the once-hundreds-strong line outside has since dissolved. Senators are looking visibly tired, and many have already left — though committee leadership, and those who have yet to ask questions, are still there.
5:42 p.m. ET: Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook users effectively consented to Cambridge Analytica harvesting their data
We just had an important exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and Republican senator Jerry Moran over Cambridge Analytica.
Moran questions Zuckerberg over on what grounds Facebook believes it did not violate an FTC consent order dictating how Facebook can use and share user data. Even if several hundred thousand users consented to having their data harvested to Cambridge Analytica, surely the other 87 million didn’t?
Zuckerberg responds that though its systems were clearly broken, “we explained to people how it worked and they did consent to it.”
In other words, users were technically informed that Facebook app developers could harvest their data if their friends gave permission — so Facebook didn’t violate the consent order. “When people signed up for Facebook they signed up for that as well,” Zuckerberg said.
5:21 p.m. ET: Facebook does not have “specific knowledge” of China or Russia building profiles on Facebook users
Facebook does not have “specific knowledge” of Russia or China harvesting data or building profiles on Facebook users, Mark Zuckerberg says.
Republican senator Jeff Flake asked the CEO if Facebook knew if Russia or China had harvested data sets.
Zuckerberg responded that Facebook is currently investigating following the Cambridge Analytica scandal — a point also made earlier in the hearing — and said non-specifically that he expects “it will find things.”
But, he added, “I don’t think sitting here today we have specific knowledge of other efforts by those nation states.”
5:17 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg would (in principle) support opt-in data legislation — but not a digital bill of rights for children
Facing questioning about potential legislation, Zuckerberg said he — in principle — supported legislation that would require explicit opt-ins before user data is used.
But he was more reticent when it comes to protecting the privacy of children. Asked specifically, and repeatedly, if he would in principle support a privacy bill of rights for children, the Facebook CEO demured.
“I’m not sure if we need a law, but it’s definitely something that needs a lot of discussion,” he said.
Senator Markey responded that he couldn’t disagree more, and that children require protection from “rapacious commercial predators.”
5:07 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg references his college dorm room, yet again.
In response to a long question from Senator Chris Coons that was more speech that query, Zuckerberg remarked that “we started out in my dorm room.”
It’s a line the CEO has repeated numerous times during the hearing — and betrays how closely he has been coached for today. There have been a few showboat-y exchanges, but for the most part Zuckerberg has managed to stick to company talking points thus far.
Case in point: When asked by Senator Sasse about social media addiction and whether he was worried about it as a father, Zuckerberg sidestepped the question and answered: “Well my hope is we can be idealistic, but have a broad view of our responsibilities” — another go-to line.
4:50 p.m. ET: Recap!
We’re around two hours in. Here are the highlights:
- Facebook employees have been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, Mark Zuckerberg revealed.
- Zuckerberg admitted that most users don’t read the social network’s terms of service before signing up.
- In an awkward exchange intended to highlight the issue of privacy, Zuckerberg refused to answer a senator’s question by revealing what hotel he was staying in.
- Zuckerberg was grilled by Republican senator Ted Cruz over Facebok’s perceived left-wing political bias.
- Facebook was accused by of violating an FTC order over a researcher’s collection of user data that was later sold to Cambridge Analytica.
4:33 p.m. ET: Awkwardness ensued when top Democratic senator asked Mark Zuckerberg if he would reveal what hotel he stayed at last night
There was an awkward exchange earlier in the hearing when top Democratic senator Dick Durbin asked asked Zuckerberg: “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”
“Um,” Zuckerberg said before a long pause. “No.”
The audience and panel of senators erupted in laughter at Zuckerberg’s hesitancy to answer questions about his personal activities.
“If you messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” Durbin asked.
“Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here,” Zuckerberg responded.
“I think that might be what this is all about,” Durbin told Zuckerberg. “Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you’d give away in modern America.”
Here’s Business Insider’s full report on the exchange »
3:29 p.m. ET: Senator Ted Cruz savages Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s perceived political bias
Republican senator Ted Cruz was expected to make a scene when it was his turn to ask questions, and he didn’t disppoint.
The former presidential hopeful repeatedly attacked Mark Zuckerberg over what right-wing critics allege is political bias.
Cruz outlined what he alleged was a “pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship” — from the closure of right-wing pages to the alleged suppression of conservative news stories — and hit the CEO with multiple leading questions.
Has Facebook ever taken down any adverts or pages from Planned Parenthood? Or a Democratic candidate? Does it ask its moderation team about their political beliefs when hiring? Does he know if anyone on the moderation team has ever donated to a Republican candidate.
The answer to these questions was almost invariably no or “I don’t know.” One area where new light was shed was the departure of Palmer Luckey, the founder of virtual reality unit Oculus that who has become increasingly outspoken in his right-wing politics.
When pressed, Zuckerberg said Luckey’s departure was “not because of a political view.”
…and after two hours of questioning, it’s time for a break.
4.15 p.m. ET: Facebook accused of violating FTC order
Facebook is accused of violating an FTC order in a contentious exchange with Senator Blumenthal, which Zuckerberg denies.
Blumenthal shows Zuckerberg a huge card outlining the terms of service researcher Kogan offered to Facebook, explicitly saying Facebook may steal user data, in apparent violation of a FTC consent order placed on Facebook.
Zuckerberg says he hadn’t seen Kogan’s terms before — and that no-one was fired over Facebook’s agreement to them.
Blumenthal contents that this agreement violated the FTC consent order that Facebook was bound by, which Zuckerberg disputes.
4:10 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg; “I agree we’re responsible for content.”
An interesting back-and-forth between Zuckerberg and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. Asked about Facebook’s responsibility for for questionable content shared on Facebook, the CEO said: “I agree we’re responsible for content.”
It’s a somewhat surprising admission: Facebook — and other tech companies — have historically taken a more hands-off approach, sheltered from legal culpability from what its users share so long as it responds to users’ reports appropriately.
But the CEO suggests that the development of AI and it use in content moderation may change that calculus. “There are moral and legal obligation questions … about how we want companies to take action proactively.”
3:53 p.m. ET: Facebook won’t be able to detect hate speech with AI for for 5-10 years.
Earlier in the hearing, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s AI technology wouldn’t be able to reliably detect hate speech for another five-to-ten years. Here’s Business Insider’s full report »
3.47 p.m. ET: Facebook isn’t a monopoly, Zuckerberg insists.
Senator Graham is grilling Zuckerberg on a range of subjects around its core product. He asks about his competitors, and cuts the CEO when he reverts to rote talking points.
He asks directly if Zuckerberg thinks is a monopoly.
“It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg responds.
Graham also gets Zuckerberg to admit that he thinks most users don’t read Facebooks terms of service when they sign up: “I don’t think the average person likely reads the whole document.”
3:37 p.m. ET: Facebook has been interviewed by the special counsel, Zuckerberg reveals.
In response to a question from Senaotr Leahy, Zuckerberg reveals that someone at Facebook has been interviewed by the office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. (It wasn’t Zuckerberg himself.)
The CEO is reluctant to offer more info, because the company’s work with the special counsel’s office is “confidential,” he says, though he says he’s not aware of any subpoena. The questioning moves on.
3:36 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg grilled about alleged genocide in Mynamar
Facebook has faced intense criticism over how its platform has been used to promote hate speech amid alleged genocide on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Senator Leahy asked about the crisis, and Zuckerberg outlined three steps the company is taking. It is hiring “dozens” of Burmese-langauge content reviewers, that it is working with civil society groups to identify and ban hate figures, and is working on specific features “to prevent this from happening.”
3:35 p.m. ET: The Russian trolls are here!
The crowd at the hearing are mainly senate staffers, lobbyists, and journalists, but there also some more colourful figures in attendance for Zuckerberg’s testimony.
Along with the Code Pink protestors, there is also this fellow dressed as one of the “Russian trolls” that has plagued Facebook in recent years.
3.29 p.m. ET: Mark Zuckerberg gets grilled about Palantir.
Senator Cantwell grills Mark Zuckerberg about Palantir – a shadowy intelligence firm run by Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member.
He says he doesn’t know if, as reports have suggested, Palantir taught Cambridge Analytica.
He is not aware of Palantir ever scraping user data.
He later adds that he’s “not reallty familiar with what Palantir does.” (Again, Thiel is a board member at Facebook, and the company’s first outside investor.)
3:22 p.m. ET: Facebook didn’t ban Cambridge Analytica in 2015 because there was “nothing to ban.”
Asked by Senator Feinstein, Zuckerberg said Facebook didn’t ban Cambridge Analytica in 2015 because there was “nothing to ban” – the firm didn’t have a presence on the site at the time. It didn’t run ads, or operate pages.
But that doesn’t answer why Facebook didn’t attempt to pre-emptively ban it from ever operaitng on Facebook, and Feinstein deos not follow up.
3:16 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg’s early remarks are fairly rote.
So far, Mark Zuckerberg’s answers to senators’ questions have been fairly rote, hitting the same beats he touched on in his damage-control media circuit over the last week.
The subject has now broadened from Cambridge Analytica to the broader issues bedevilling the social network, from hate speech to foreign intererence and elections. Questioned by Senator Feinstein, he emphasises that Facebook has improved in dealing with election inteference since 2016 – a frequent talking point for the CEO.
3:14 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg; “So we have made a lot of mistakes in running the company.”
Zuckerberg was asked about why it didn’t notify the tens of millions of people affected by Cambridge Analytica back in 2015. He says it was “clearly a mistake” not to do so, had considered CA’s certificaiton it had deleted the information sufficient, “considered it a closed case.”
Facebook also didn’t notify the FTC in 2015, for the same reason.
Thune then asks Zuckerberg about why people should trust Facebook in its apology, given its history of screw-ups and subsequent apologies. “So we have made a lot of mistakes in running the company,” Zuckerberg says – a mild understatement. Says Facebook tries to avoid making the same mistakes twice.
3:06 p.m. ET: The million dollar question: Will Facebook let users pay not to see ads?
Nelson asks about users who don’t want to have their personal information used for advertising. “Are you actually considering have Facebook users pay for you not to use that information?”
Zuckerberg responds not-quite-directly, that “people really don’t like ads that aren’t relevant.”
When pushed, he says he views an ad-supported Facebook “most aligned with [our] mission … we want to offer a free service everyone can afford.”
3.02 p.m. ET: Questions begin.
And now onto the questions.
Zuckerberg punts when asked specifically how many times other apps misused data like CA did. Said there is a “full investigation” going on looking into tens of thousands of apps that had access to user data.
When pushed by Senator Grassley, he says his team will follow up at a later date.
2.59 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg speaks: “We didn’t do enough … it was a big mistake.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is now giving his opening statement.
It’s largely similar to the remarks he’s made in recent days in blog posts and interviews with journalists.
Facebook made a “big mistake” by not taking a “broad enough view” of its responsibilities, the exec says.
He outlines the already-announced changes Facebook is making in response to the scandal, including notifying users whose data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica.
The issues Facebook is facing are challenges “for all of us as Americans,” Zuckerberg concludes.
2.52 p.m. ET: Senator Nelson raises the spectre of regulation.
Senator Nelson is punchier right out the gate: If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are gonna have any privacy any more,” he tells Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg will speak after these open statements. For now he is sitting silently, looking fairly serious, occasionally sipping water.
Nelson raises the possibility of Congress enacting regulation if Facebook fails to act: “How can American consumers trust folks like your company to be caretakers of their most personal and identifable information?”
2:48 p.m. ET: Grassley speaks again.
Senator Grassley talks about the scale of modern data collection, and situates it in the broader context – mentioning other companies also collecting user data, and touching on the history of the use of voter data in political campaigns (particularly Obama’s).
He says: “The tech industry has an obligation to respond to widespread and growing concerns over data privacy and security and to restore the public’s trust.”
2.44 p.m. ET: Next up, Senator Feinstein.
It’s now on to Senator Feinstein. While Thune focused on data and privacy issues, her remarks also raise foreign interference via Facebook – particularly the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA).
Cambridge Analytica (CA) gets a mention too, however, linking it to Trump’s campaign – and asking whether CA coordinated with the IRA.
She’s concerned, she says, because Facebook reportedly learned of Cambridge Analytica obtaining user data in 2015 and did nothing about it until now.
2.39 p.m. ET: And so it begins.
The hearing has kicked off with Senator Grassley laying out the ground rules. Senators will get five minutes, not four, and there will not be a second round of questions.
Then, first up is Senator Thune, the commerce chairman. His opening remarks are critical, Cambridge Analytica’s scraping “disturbing” and highlighting that the research firm was able to hijack Facebook’s tools rather than due to “negligence.” He also raises concerns that Facebook’s planned changes will only reinforce its dominance and further its walled garden.
2.29 p.m. ET: ZUCKERBERG ENTERS THE ROOM.
Mark Zuckerberg has entered the room. He’s smiling, and greeting congressmen. He’s dressed in a dark blue suit and light blue tie. Posing for a few photographs for the media.
2.28 p.m. ET: The obligatory protestors are in attendance.
It just wouldn’t be a high-profile congressional hearing without a few protestors!
There’s a scattering of protestors in the audience from Code Pink, a pro-social justice organisation that campaigns against militarism. They were earlier waving banners with slogans like “PROTECT OUR PRIVACY” and “STOP CORPORATE SPYING.”
2.18 p.m. ET: How the hearing will work.
So how will today’s hearing work?
The hearing will begin with opening statements from each chairman and ranking member from the two committees, which will be Republicans John Thune (Commerce) and Chuck Grassley (Judiciary), followed by Democrats Bill Nelson (Commerce) and Dianne Feinstein (Judiciary).
After them, Zuckerberg will deliver his opening statement. Then the questioning will begin. Each senator will get five minutes and they will go one by one, rotating by party. There are 44 senators between the two committees, and they could go for multiple rounds.
2.17 p.m. ZUCKERBERG IS IN THE BUILDING.
Mark Zuckerberg is in the building. CBS News captured footage of the CEO in the lobby.
2.13 p.m. ET: Crowds are swarming in the hall.
As the scheduled time of the hearing approaches, the hall is swarming with photographers angling for a prime shot of the 33-year-old CEO once he arrives.
Outside of the room, the line is several hundred people long, stretching down two flights of stairs and through the underground tunnels that connect the Senate office buildings. It goes all the way into the neighbouring building.
Most will leave disappointed: There are only around 50 seats inside the room.
2:00 p.m. ET: The (padded) hotseat.
Pictured above: The seat Zuckerberg will be sitting in for his testimony, which may go on for as long as four hours.
There has been some mirth on Twitter over what appears to be a booster seat on his chair – though Business Insider understands that it has been added for additional comfort, rather than to give the 5-foot-7-inch executive a height boost.
1:44 p.m. ET: Zuckerberg won’t be under oath. Plus, expect a short delay.
Two key updates for now.
One: There is a Senate floor vote scheduled for 14:15 ET today, so the hearing will kick off a little later than anticipated – expect the show to get started between 14:30-14:45 ET.
And second: Mark Zuckerberg won’t be under oath when he testifies, so don’t expect to see the iconic shot of him raising his right hand as he swears truthfulness. However, he will still be required to answer truthfully, as lying to Congress is a federal crime.
For context, the Judiciary Committee typically requires witnesses to be sworn in, but the Commerce Committee does not. In addition, Zuckerberg is a non-government witness, which Judiciary often does not require to go under oath.
1:33 p.m. ET: Get ready…
Hello, and welcome to Business Insider’s liveblog of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony!
We’ll be bringing you all the latest news as it comes in. Stay tuned.
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