Mark Zuckerberg: the kid who always says “I’m sorry”
After 5 hours of interrogation and after more than 600 questions by senators and representatives, the founder of Facebook made it clear that the great achievements of his company come at a very high price for its users.
For those of us who have "agreed" to long privacy policies without having read them, Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress last week was chilling.
During 5 hours and 600 questions, the CEO and founder of Facebook - one of the largest and most powerful technology companies in the world - tried to explain to members of the Judicial and Commerce committees how their platform works and, more specifically, what it does with the data collected from its users.
Zuckerberg described Facebook as "an idealistic and optimistic company" that has focused "on all the good things that connecting people can bring". Citing cultural movements, self-managed companies, and even activism campaigns, the CEO tried to clear up doubts about the "humanity" behind his company.
However, his statement focused on two more or less specific issues: the use of user data and apologies.
"It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm," the young businessman agreed. "That goes for fake news, for foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake."
"It was my mistake"; "sorry"; "I am responsible"; "It is quite possible that we made a mistake"; "It seems that we made a mistake there and I apologize for that", and dozens of times more, Zuckerberg "humbly" accepted the mistakes of his company and took personal responsibility for its consequences.
But is it enough to ask for forgiveness?
While the hearings were conducted precisely to determine whether the US Congress should or should not intervene through regulations or some other mechanism that protects citizens and users, it seems that Facebook has bypassed the red flags for some years, becoming a dangerous tool.
According to CNBC, Zuckerberg said Facebook "did not notify the Federal Trade Commission about the Cambridge Analytica data leak from 2015 because the company considered it a closed case".
In one of the biggest episodes of abuse of information in the last decades, the political consultant Cambridge Analytica collected the data of more than 87 million users on Facebook through a questionnaire application that served as a platform; later it was shown that the consultant managed to influence political scenarios thanks to its access to data.
Not in vain, members of Congress tried, again and again, to understand how Facebook works - which transformed them into an object of ridicule in social media due to their age difference with the platform. But as Geoffrey A. Fowler says in his article for the Post: they were as confused as many Americans.
"Zuckerberg has never really explained how much data Facebook collects and what it does with it," Fowler continues. "As Senator John Neely Kennedy put it, Zuckerberg's user agreements 'suck'."
On more than 45 occasions during his hearing, the Executive Director told Congress that "users are in control of their data," without explaining exactly how.
“That’s like saying anyone can control a 747 because it has buttons and dials," Fowler argues.
Zuckerberg spoke of the tool "download your information", something that has been shown to be useless according to various people who tried it.
This data is used by Facebook to help advertising companies to "better locate their ads", determining the tastes, preferences, desires and even guilty pleasures of users; It’s something like the most violent - yet passive - marketing study in history.
And it goes beyond that.
For Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a specialized ACLU technologist who has never opened an account on the platform, "Facebook still has a detailed profile that can be used to target me."
"I’ve never consented to having Facebook collect my data, which can be used to draw very detailed inferences about my life, my habits, and my relationships," he explained.
The mechanism used by Facebook is through the other users’ data who "are encouraged to upload their contact list", and at the same time their data can be collected through the Internet, using the so-called "cookies".
It seems that we are all stuck in the dense web woven by the innocent platform that convinced us to leave MySpace 14 years ago; while "we are in control" of what we share, it is perhaps too late to ask for the gift back.