In prepared testimony released Monday ahead of his appearance before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg starts off by saying that Facebook is “an idealistic and optimistic company” that “didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility.”
In a withering story published last Friday in Wired, Zeynep Tufecki cites 5 other instances since 2003 that Zuckerberg has given a variation of the same speech. The variations differ only on the particular sin that Facebook has most recently committed. Even the 2011 consent decree that Facebook signed hasn’t caused the company significantly to change its ways.
Zuckerberg’s comments in the released testimony:
It’s not enough to just connect people, we have to make sure those connections are positive. It’s not enough to just give people a voice, we have to make sure people aren’t using it to hurt people or spread misinformation. It’s not enough to give people control of their information, we have to make sure developers they’ve given it to are protecting it too. Across the board, we have a responsibility to not just build tools, but to make sure those tools are used for good.
Tufecki especially takes aim at Zuckerberg’s earlier references to the Facebook community:
Facebook’s 2 billion users are not Facebook’s “community.” They are its user base, and they have been repeatedly carried along by the decisions of the one person who controls the platform. … Nor do people have any means to completely stop being tracked by Facebook. … Facebook doesn’t just collect data itself; it has purchased external data from data brokers; it creates “shadow profiles” of nonusers and is now attempting to match offline data to its online profiles.
Zuckerberg uses the word “community” just twice in his testimony, surely a new record low, and closes his testimony with this:
I realize the issues we’re talking about today aren’t just issues for Facebook and our community — they’re challenges for all of us as Americans.
In his testimony Zuckerberg addresses both the Cambridge Analytica issue and the Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Not only have those horses left the barn, they’re halfway to the open range.
Did Zuckerberg say anything new? Did he say anything to give the lie to Zufecki’s characterization of Facebook’s privacy policies:
There is no other way to interpret Facebook’s privacy invading moves over the years … as anything other than decisions driven by a combination of self-serving impulses: namely, profit motives, the structural incentives inherent to the company’s business model, and the one-sided ideology of its founders and some executives.
The good things that Facebook achieves — and there are more than a few — have always been used to excuse its occasional bad behavior. But the issue here is fundamental, not occasional, and it does not appear that Zuckerberg gets that.