Facebook CEO doesn’t leave us feeling data is safe

PRIVACY PROTECTION — AS MUCH as we can expect from our engagement with social media — is the predominant issue for people angry at Facebook these days.

So for those of us who have that anger, it was less than reassuring to have Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reveal in testimony before Congress that he didn’t know key details of a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission that requires Facebook to protect user privacy.

With congressional hearings over and no immediate momentum behind calls for regulation, the biggest hammer still hanging over Facebook in the U.S. is a fresh FTC investigation, The Associated Press reported.

The 2011 agreement bound Facebook to a 20-year privacy commitment, and any violations of that pact could cost Facebook billions; yes, that’s billions with a “b.” If Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress is any indication, the company might have something to worry about.

Zuckerberg repeatedly assured lawmakers Tuesday and Wednesday that he believed Facebook is in compliance with that 2011 agreement. But he also came up short in simple factual questions about the consent decree.

“Congresswoman, I don’t remember if we had a financial penalty,” Zuckerberg said under questioning by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado.

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

In response to questioning by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, Zuckerberg acknowledged: “I’m not familiar with all of the things the FTC said.”

Zuckerberg also faced several questions from lawmakers about how long it takes for Facebook to delete user data from its systems. He didn’t know.

The 2011 consent decree capped years of Facebook privacy mishaps, many of which revolved around its early attempts to follow users and their friends around the internet. Any violations of the 2011 agreement could subject Facebook to fines of $41,484 per violation per user per day. To put that in context, Facebook could theoretically owe $8 billion for one single day of a violation affecting all of its American users.

The current FTC investigation will look at whether Facebook engaged in “unfair acts” that cause “substantial injury” to consumers.

David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor who headed the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection when Facebook signed the deal, said in a blog post this month that Facebook’s argument that it didn’t violate the deal are “far-fetched.” Two days of testimony didn’t change his mind.

“Most of the reforms Facebook has talked about in the past couple of weeks proposed safeguards that should have been in place years ago,” Vladeck said Wednesday following 10 hours of Zuckerberg’s testimony.

It may turn out that Zuckerberg has an executive vice president in charge of privacy compliance, and that the Facebook CEO relies on that person to manage that area and bring only the most important events to his attention. The best managers hire and promote people capable of taking on greater responsibility, then delegate responsibility to those people.

But last week, when he was testifying before both houses of Congress because of the seriousness of the situation, the human face of Facebook didn’t anticipate that senators and congressmen would have questions about his company complying with an FTC order from 2011 regarding Facebook user privacy.

We were about to click Sad on that, but the Angry emoji seems more appropriate. — The Journal Times of Racine, April 16


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