Illinois Politicians Grill Zuckerberg During Facebook Hearings

Two Illinois politicians grabbed national headlines as they grilled Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his testimonies before Senate and House committees this week.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, opened his line of questioning with a pointed question: “Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”

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After some contemplation and nervous laughter, Zuckerberg affirmed he would not. The question was likely meant to underscore the value of Facebook user privacy and perhaps put the 33-year-old billionaire in the shoes of one of the 87 million users who had their data harvested by data firm Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg voluntarily faced questions during two congressional testimonies Tuesday and Wednesday for a total of nearly 10 hours. On Tuesday, he faced questions from the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees in a joint hearing and on Wednesday, he was questioned by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky on Wednesday rattled off a brief history of Zuckerberg’s many apology tours, spanning from his Harvard undergraduate days in 2003 to the present day.

“It seems to me, from this history, that self-regulation ... does not work,” Schakowsky said.

An ongoing theme of the hearings was whether Facebook should be regulated in the U.S. by an independent oversight agency or with stricter data privacy laws, like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations set to take effect May 25.

Schakowsky, a Democrat representing Illinois’ 9th Congressional District in the Chicago area, closed her questioning on a somewhat ominous note.

“Let me say, as we look at the distribution of information, who’s going to protect us from Facebook is also a question,” Schakowsky said.

On the whole, Zuckerberg, who’s been described as an awkward interview subject in the past, appeared well-prepared and composed while handling questions.

In opening statements both days, Zuckerberg apologized for unknowingly enabling the Cambridge Analytica data breach, Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the proliferation of fake news on Facebook.

Joining us to provide their analyses of the hearings: University of Chicago computer science assistant professor Blase Ur, who has researched data privacy and social media; and Charles Mudd, principal and founding attorney of Mudd Law, a firm that has litigated cases related to digital privacy and social media.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

Related stories:

The Dark Side of Social Media: Is Your Data Safe?

Cook County Sues Facebook, Cambridge Analytica for Consumer Fraud

Reports: Facebook Users’ Personal Data Exploited to Help Trump’s Campaign

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