As Mark Zuckerberg was answering a myriad of questions about the inner works of his company, it felt less like a judgment about how Facebook’s negligence empowered the likes of Cambridge Analytica, and more like a questioning of the practices of the tech industry leader in data mining.
Beyond the million of memes created by the hearing, worthy of their own analysis, the lengthy give-and-take between Zuckerberg and the lawmakers gives us a pretty clear picture about how we can fix our data protection. I propose three possible axes on which that work can focus: awareness, usability, and lawmaking.
Some moments were comical to see especially when it came to how much Facebook’s core capabilities had to be explained to lawmakers in the Senate, many of whom belong to the baby-boomer generation. It wasn’t really any different for younger and more tech-savvy representatives. Congress also served as a representative sample of Facebook users. As Senator John N. Kennedy (R-LA) asked Zuckerberg if the platform will give users the possibility of opt-out from sharing their data, some observers noted that for many users, this option was just as unclear to Zuckerberg as it was for the lawmaker.
Facebook’s CEO put it simply in his response: “I think we can do better to help people comprehend that they can always opt-out.”
This awareness comes from different points within Facebook. Implementing more simple ways for users to access their privacy settings is just one step; making a permanent campaign out of it is another. What the hearing let in plain view was the necessity of empowering users to own what they do and do not want to share.
Setting privacy on Facebook can be tricky and tiresome; this part of the platform has the least changes in all the updates that Facebook has suffered in its countless iterations. It’s just not a UX concern for the California-based company.
If Zuckerberg is committed to it, the platform cannot stop at updating its Terms of Service and Data Use Policy, as they did on April 4. They have to make it more intuitive and user-friendly, as they do with their core functions.
Something that the hearing revealed was the most used word by the CEO regarding accountability: broadening. Zuckerberg used the term to label the process the company needs to do to comply with users and lawmakers demands a more secure experience in the platform. Facebook doesn’t need to recognize its flaws or problems, but instead, they need to broaden their efforts to tackle their challenges. In that sense, the platform needs to expand their efforts to ensure they provide the right tools, rightly designed, for every user to take their privacy under control.
Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Kennedy (R-LA) will introduce legislation on how Facebook will have to conduct themselves to give the users the right tools. Part of Zuckerberg’s appearance before the lawmakers was an effort to help design that legislation, to develop a more friendly framework. On that task, Facebook can say they do their work. Even though the bill is not redacted yet, the senators gave some topics they will be focusing on, and all of them enforce the “broadening” view of Zuckerberg’s talking points:
- Give consumers the right to opt out and keep their information private by disabling data tracking and collection.
- Give users greater access to and control over their data.
- Require terms of service agreements to be written in “plain language.”
- Ensure users can see what information about them has already been collected and shared.
- Mandate that users be notified of a breach of their data within 72 hours.
- Offer remedies for users when a breach occurs.
- Require online platforms to have a privacy program in place.
Or, as Klobuchar said emphatically, “The digital space can’t keep operating like the Wild Wild West at the expense of our privacy.”