culture / Summer 2018 / Walter Proulx

Why I Feel Bad for Zuckerberg

Written by Walter Proulx

Being a Data Analyst, I already knew that there were no ethics around tossing a consumers data to other companies. As seen in Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in front of congress, it was obvious that Facebook had inadequate guidelines for sharing data. What was also quite evident was the lack of laws surrounding the use of consumers’ data in the first place. Unfortunately, none of congress knew it was their job to keep companies accountable. (For some reason they trust companies to do the right thing all the time, and scream at them when they make honest mistakes.) Don’t believe me? Read some of the questions that congress asked.

Congressman from Illinois

“Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel that you stayed in last night?”

“Um… ah… no.”

“If you messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you messaged?”

“Senator no, I would probably not choose to do that publically here.”

“I think that may be what this is all about.”

First off, it was a good idea to make that last statement personal. He is wrong, this isn’t about the data that Facebook collects; it is about the data breach that occurred. Zuckerberg was asked to testify so people could know why and how different, unreliable companies are getting their hands on data of users from Facebook. More specifically, congress is concerned with the use of data to sway elections. Companies have been collecting massive amounts of data without being regulated, and that is another problem. Unfortunately that is not the problem of this testimony but should absolutely be addressed later.

Congresswoman from Colorado

“Now as the result of the 2011 FTC investigation into Facebooks privacy policy… you entered into a consent decree with the FTC which carried no financial penalty for Facebook, is that correct?”

“Congresswoman, I don’t remember if we had a financial penalty.”

“You’re the CEO of the company. You entered into a consent decree, and you don’t remember if you had a financial penalty?”

“I remember the consent decree. The consent decree is extremely important to how we operate the company.”

“We continue to have these abuses and data breaches, but at the same time it doesn’t seem like future activities are prevented. So I think one of the things we need to look at in the future as we work with you and others in the industry is putting really robust penalties in place in case of improper actions. That is why I asked these questions.”

Disregarding the rude remarks that he was a CEO who didn’t remember arbitrary details, she said this last statement as some noteworthy idea. The fact that this testimonial had to go on for an hour for congress to figure out that the haven’t set up any penalties for data breaches is concerning. It is the job of congress to put these laws up. Without these laws, companies have to make up their own guidelines. In a country that idealizes capitalism, a company’s main concern will be profits, closely followed by customer opinion. To expect a company to invest its time into developing a framework in which to use data ethically is unreasonable because that is not their job. That falls under what congress should be doing. Additionally, it makes no sense as to how a company that self regulates can induce a proper punishment. If Facebook allows another data breach, how do they fine themselves?

Congresswoman from Illinois

“How long do we have to wait for that kind of investigation [where you look at all apps that used Facebook’s data]?”

“Congresswoman, we expect it to take many months.”

“Years?”

“I hope not.”

And there were looks of unreasonable disappointment in the room. Yet again, Zuckerberg got asked a ridiculous question. Asking how many months it will take to review all the apps that looked at Facebooks data and performing third part audits on suspicious activity is like asking how long it will take to interview thirty random people about paranormal experiences they’ve had. Sure, it could take me one day to interview thirty random people if none of them have had a paranormal experience, or it could take me months depending on how many people have had an experience and want to talk about it. This question was pretty useless.

There were a countless number of questions that made no sense to ask. It was obvious that Congress was clueless about the subject, and therefore their job in this matter. I’m not saying Zuckerberg didn’t mess up. I’m not saying there doesn’t need to be ethical guidelines setup for businesses so they don’t do something terrible. What I am saying is that Congress expects a structure to be set up when they are responsible for building that structure. Anything dealing with new fields of technology already has a lack of laws, but data analysis has practically nothing regulating it. Congress should have been more aware of the subject and started implementing laws years ago. To roast Zuckerberg, one of the people on the forefront of developing these ethics, is dumb. I feel bad for him having to endure a five hour testimony of ridiculous questions, and even worse that most of the world doesn’t realize that most of the time  ethics are developed after something bad happens, not before.

 

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