He probably hasn’t heard this kind of thing since he dropped out of Harvard.
Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of social networking giant Facebook, knew he was going to get an earful on Capitol Hill this week during two days of testimony about Facebook’s privacy practices, but one exchange with Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy might have given him one thing he didn’t expect:
A homework assignment he’s got to hate.
Kennedy, serving his first term in the Senate, got down to brass tacks almost immediately Tuesday with the mega-billionaire from Silicon Valley.
In a refreshing change from the normally loquacious questioning that characterizes Senate hearings — when politicians are playing more for the cameras than the congressional record — Kennedy kept his questions brief.
And the phrasing unusually blunt.
“Here’s what everybody’s been trying to tell you today, and I say this gently,” Kennedy told Zuckerberg. “Your user agreement sucks.”
It was intended, Kennedy said, “to cover Facebook’s rear end. It’s not to inform your users about their rights. Now you know that, and I know that.”
Then he got to the homework assignment.
“I’m going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it,” Kennedy said.
“And tell your 1,200-dollar-an-hour lawyers — no disrespect, they’re good — but tell them you want it written in English and non-Swahili so the average American can understand it.
“That would be a start.”
Should the government regulate Facebook?
It would, but that horse has been out of the barn for a long time. Most Facebook users were probably already aware that they were getting the free service in return for making it possible for advertisers to target their products precisely because data about their interests was being recorded and shared.
It took the Cambridge Analytica revelations — and, of course, their ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign — to turn Facebook’s business model into a “scandal.”
So it’s unclear just how productive Zuckerberg’s grilling on Capitol Hill will turn out to be. Facebook built a billion-dollar empire, and changed the modern media, by using data as a marketing product in a wide-open environment.
That’s why Kennedy’s opening in his questions really illustrated the stakes of Zuckerberg’s testimony this week.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, I come in peace,” Kennedy said. “I don’t want to vote to have to regulate Facebook. But by God I will. A lot of that depends on you.”
Zuckerberg probably hasn’t heard that kind of talk since he dropped out of Harvard, but he’s got his homework cut out for him.
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