It’s official: Mark Zuckerberg has landed in Washington.
As the Facebook CEO prepares to face back-to-back Congressional hearings this week, more information continues to flow from the company — from admitting guilt, to ongoing plans for how Facebook will better maintain user privacy.
Zuckerberg’s appearance before lawmakers comes after revelations made in late March about political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtaining and misusing Facebook personal user data.
Today, Facebook began issuing notifications to users whose information was jeopardized, which the company has said it conservatively estimates to have impacted 87 million people.
In fact, earlier today, the text of Mark Zuckerberg’s official testimony for Wednesday’s hearing with the House Energy and Commerce committee was released. The text reads somewhat like a synthesis of the apologies, statements, and plans of actions declared over the past three weeks.
How much this satisfies the members of the Committees he will be facing is yet to be determined. But what’s fairly certain is that they’ll have questions — and we have questions, too.
As I prepared for my travels to D.C., where HubSpot’s Social Campaign Strategy Associate Henry Franco and I will be on the ground to cover Zuckerberg’s hearings, I thought about what some of those questions are. Then, I asked my colleagues:
If you were a member of Congress, what would you ask Mark Zuckerberg? And what are you hoping lawmakers ask him?
Here are the questions we have for Zuckerberg, going into this week’s hearings.
1. What is the right balance between leveraging user data to improve the experience, versus marketing and selling to them?
The prioritization of ad revenue and protecting the user continues to hang in the balance as Facebook responds to and makes changes following the Cambridge Analytica revelations. Facebook has significantly modified its advertising policies to, among other things, require all advertisers on Facebook to become verified.
But beyond new policies and requirements, Zuckerberg has taken a hard stance on the user experience and what it’s supposed to look like on Facebook. This began in January when the News Feed algorithm was changed to prioritize content from users’ friends and families. That was part of the response to the weaponization of Facebook by foreign actors to spread misinformation and influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
“My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together,” remarks Zuckerberg in his written testimony. “Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I’m running Facebook.”
Source: U.S. House of Representatives
But some, including HubSpot Chief Marketing Officer Kipp Bodnar, wonder if Facebook is in such depths of building its advertising Platform that it’s too late to re-focus on Zuckerberg’s social mission.
“Have they gone too far?” Bodnar asks.
At this point, with the arguably reactive onslaught of policy changes, it’s easy to question if Facebook even knows what the right balance between a personalized experience and marketing might look like — and how to achieve it.
2. What information is off-limits in ad targeting?
While Facebook has indicated that advertisers will have to go through a comprehensive verification process, the question on the mind of HubSpot VP of Marketing Jon Dick is this: “What information is off-limits in ad targeting?”
Zuckerberg noted in his written testimony that Facebook won’t wait “for legislation to act” before working to address the issue-based advertising that was largely used in the spread of misinformation and divisive content leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
And yes, Facebook is rolling out several protocols to help add greater context to ads — including who paid for it, the organization or Page associated with it, and an Ad Archive described in the video below.
But what hasn’t been explored is the subject matter of those ads. Based on what has been unveiled so far, no subject matter has been named as prohibited beyond what Facebook’s terms of service and policies already dictated.
As the company continues to reshape and respond to the increasing scrutiny it has faced in recent months, that could change.
3. What about the other brands and apps owned by Facebook?
In the current storm of quickly emerging updates on both Facebook and Zuckerberg himself, it’s easy to forget the breadth of the company’s entire portfolio. Facebook also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus. So, says HubSpot VP of Marketing Meghan Anderson, it raises the question: What are Zuckerberg’s plans for those brands, as well?
Instagram recently shuttered its APIs for follower lists, relationships, and commenting on public content, limiting the amount of data developers can access (and the frequency with which any information can be accessed, according to initial reports from TechCrunch).
But beyond that, how will Facebook (and Zuckerberg) extend these new efforts and policy changes to its other products? For instance, when I wrote about the experience of downloading and sifting through my data file archive, I discovered that it included details of my Messenger interactions, including the full text of conversations and any media exchanged throughout them.
And that raises even more questions. For instance, asks Dick, “How will [Facebook] ensure that user privacy is protected in messaging apps?”, including Messenger and WhatsApp, as well as direct messaging features within Instagram.
4. What about the GDPR?
Zuckerberg’s hearings come at an interesting time, when the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) is just over a month away from coming into force on May 25, 2018. According to HubSpot Web Developer Dmitry Shamis, it poses the question: “Should we extend GDPR rules beyond Europe?”
It’s hardly the first time the question has come up, as Zuckerberg spoke to this possibility in an interview with Reuters and a call with several members of the press. In the former, he agreed “in spirit” to a new law in the European Union that will renovate online privacy standards across Europe. In the latter, he remarked, “if we are planning on running the controls for GDPR across the world … my answer [is] yes.”
As we enter the hearings this week, we expect lawmakers to raise the issue of regulating Facebook and its Big Tech counterparts. In fact, in the early days of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, there were rumors of Zuckerberg not appearing before Congress alone — and that the CEOs of Google and Twitter had been invited to testify, as well.
Reporter: Would you like to see executives from Google and Twitter and other tech companies come testify?
Nelson: Absolutely. It’s not just Facebook. [Zuckerberg] happens to be the point of the spear. https://t.co/Tv2CrkYp77 pic.twitter.com/iwB1BxRZEB
— CBS News (@CBSNews)
April 9, 2018
It’s feasible that the hearings scheduled for this week will not be the last of their kind, and that Zuckerberg could be asked to return to Washington to provide further testimony alongside his Big Tech counterparts.
For now, we’ll keep you posted on the questions that do come up this week. Questions? Feel free to weigh in on Twitter.