Zuckerberg tells Congress Facebook is not listening to you through your phone

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially shot down the conspiracy hypothesi that the social network has some route of maintaining tabs on its users by tapping into the mics on people’s smartphones. During Zuckerberg’s testimony before the Senate this afternoon, Senator Gary Peters had asked the CEO if the social network is mining audio from mobile devices — something his constituents have been asking him about, he said.

Zuckerberg denied this sort of audio data collection was taking place.

The fact that so many people believe that Facebook is “listening” to their private conversations is representative of how mistrustful users have grown of the company and its data privacy practices, the Senator noted.

” I think it’s safe to say very simply that Facebook is losing the trust of an awful lot of Americans as a result of this incident ,” told Peters, tying his constituents’ questions about mobile data mining to their outrage over the Cambridge Analyticascandal.

Questions about Facebook’s mobile data collection practises aren’t anything new, however.

In fact, Facebook went on record back in 2016 to nation — full stop — that it does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or News Feed stories.

Despite this, it’s something that keeps coming up, again and again. The Wall Street Journal even operated an explainer video about the conspiracy last month. And yet none of the reporting seem to be quash the rumor.

People simply refuse to believe it’s not happening. They’ll tell you of very specific times when something they swear they are uttered aloud speedily appeared in their Facebook News Feed.

Perhaps their inability to believe Facebook on the matter is more of an indication of how precise — and downright creepy — Facebook’s ad targeting capabilities have become over the years.

Peters took the opportunity today to ask Zuckerberg this question straight on today, during Zuckerberg’s testimony.

” Something that I’ve been hearing a lot from folks who have been coming up to me and talking about a kind of experience they’ve had where they’re having a conversation with friends — not on the phone, just talking. And then they watch ads popping up fairly quickly on their Facebook ,” Peters explained.” So I’ve heard constituents fear that Facebook is mining audio from their mobile devices for the purposes of ad targeting — which I suppose speaks to the lack of trust that we’re seeing here .”

He then asked Zuckerberg to country if this is something Facebook did.

” Yes or no: Does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about its users ?,” Peters asked.

Zuckerberg reacted simply: “No.”

The CEO then added that his answer meant “no” in terms of the conspiracy theory that keeps get passed around, but noted that the social network does allow users to record videos, which have an audio component. That was a bit of an unnecessary clarification, though, given that the issues to was about surreptitious recording , not something users were explicitly recording media to share.

” Hopefully that will dispel a lot of what I’ve been hearing ,” Peters told, after hearing Zuckerberg’s response.

We wouldn’t be too sure.

There have been a number of lengthy explanations of the technical limitations considering research projects of this scale, which have also pointed out how easy it would be to detect this practice, if it were true. But there are still those people out there who believe things to be true since they are feel true.

And at the end of the working day, the fact that this conspiracy refuses to die says something about how Facebook users view the company: as a stalker that sneaks on their privacy, and then can’t be believed when it tells you,” no, trust me, we don’t do that .”

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You dont think you have a monopoly? Read Sen. Grahams delightful grilling of Zuckerberg

Today’s testimony by Mark Zuckerberg in front of a Senate joint committee was often boring or redundant with previous statements. But there was an exchange near the two-hour mark that was pleasantly freshening: Senator Lindsey Graham( R-SC) doggedly pursuing a common-sense answer from Zuckerberg on the question of whether it had any real competition.

Graham doesn’t let Zuckerberg employ his spin on the admittedly complex question of what Facebook’s challengers are. Demanding a simpler answer by utilizing a folksy car-buying metaphor, he makes it clear that at least from one perspective, Facebook is more or less without a real challenger — with the possible exception of Instagram, which it of course opted to buy for a fortune rather than allow it to exist as a credible rival.

The Senator also makes it clear that he doesn’t think Facebook should be allowed to self-regulate — but his invitation to Zuckerberg to collaborate on rules sure sounds like he wants the company to have a say in how it should or should not be bound by law.

I’ve transcribed the exchange below 😛 TAGEND

Graham : Who’s your biggest competitor?
Zuckerberg : Senator, we have a lot of competitors.
Graham : Who’s your biggest?
Zuckerberg : Mmm … I guess the categories of … do you want only one? I’m not sure I can give one. But can I devote a bunch?
Graham : Mmhm.
Zuckerberg : So there are three categories I would focus on. One are[ sic] the other tech platforms, so Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, we overlap with them in different ways.
Graham : Do they do, do they offer the same service that you offer?
Zuckerberg : Um, in different ways, different parts of it yes.
Graham : Let me set it this style. If I buy a Ford and it doesn’t work well and I don’t like it, I can buy a Chevy. If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product that I can go sign on for?
Zuckerberg : Ah well, the second category that I was going to talk about was…
Graham : I’m not talking about categories. I’m talking about is there real rivalry you face. Because auto companies face a lot of rivalry. If they make a defective automobile, it gets out in the world, people stop buying that car, they buy another one. Is there an alternative to Facebook in the private sector?
Zuckerberg : Yes Senator, the average American uses 8 different apps…
Graham : OK.
Zuckerberg : … to communicate with their friends and stay in touch with people, ranging from text to email.
Graham : OK, which is the same services that are you provide.
Zuckerberg : Well, we offer a number of different services.
Graham : Is Twitter the same as what you do?
Zuckerberg : It overlaps with a portion of what we do.
Graham : You don’t think you have a monopoly?
Zuckerberg :( long pause) Ah, it surely doesn’t feel like that to me!( laughter)
Graham : OK, so it doesn’t. So, Instagram. You bought Instagram. Why did you buy Instagram?
Zuckerberg : Because they were very talented app developers who were making good use of our platform and understood our values.
Graham : It was a good business decision. My point is that one route to govern a company is through competitor, through government regulation. Here’s the question that all of us got to answer. What do we tell our constituents, devoted what’s happened here, why we should let you self-regulate? What would you tell people in South Carolina, that given all the things we’ve just discovered here, it’s a good notion for us to rely on you to regulate your own business practices?
Zuckerberg : Well Senator, my stance is not that there should be no regulation. I think the internet is increasing in…
Graham : Mmkay. You’d embrace regulation?
Zuckerberg : I guess the real question because the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation , not whether there should be regulation.
Graham : But you as a company welcome regulation?
Zuckerberg : I think if it’s the right regulation then yes.
Graham : Do you think the Europeans have it right?
Zuckerberg : Ah, I think that they get … things right.
Graham : Have you ever submitted …( laugh) That’s true. So would you work with us in terms of what regulations you think are necessary in your industry?
Zuckerberg : Absolutely.
Graham : OK, would you submit to us and propose regulations?
Zuckerberg : Yes and I’ll have my squad follow up with you so that way we are capable of have this discussion across the different categories where I think this discussion needs to happen.
Graham : Looking forward to it.

While it’s admittedly not the toughest questioning, it does baldly address the simple notion that Graham and others consider Facebook effectively a monopoly and intend to craft regulations or legislation to redres what they perceive as a regulatory gap.

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Here are Mark Zuckerbergs notes from todays hearing

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg pulled off a smooth appearance in a joint Senate hearing today, dodging most questions while maintaining an adequately patient vibe through five hours of varied but mostly tame questioning.

The chief executive avoided admitting that Facebook is a publisher or a monopoly, refused to commit to any meaningful legislation and respectfully addressed lawmakers over a nearly five hour marathon testimony.

Still, he did make one rookie mistake.

Zuckerberg left his hearing notes open in front of his seat for long enough for AP Photographer Andrew Harnik to snap a high resolving shoot with talking phases in plain view. Twitter users and journalists scanning photos from the courtroom as they make the wire were quick to notification, the irony of the minor privacy intrusion not lost on them.

Zuckerberg denies knowledge of Facebook shadow profiles

The fact that Facebook probably has a profile of you whether you’re a Facebook user or not might come as a surprise to some users, though today even the company’s chief executive denied knowledge of the practice — or at least the term used to describe it.

In this morning’s hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, New Mexico Representative Ben Lujan cornered Mark Zuckerberg with a question about so-called ” shadow profiles” — the term often used to refer to the data that Facebook collects on non-users and other hide data that Facebook holds but does not offer openly on the site for users to see.

In one of the handful of somewhat candid moments of the past few days, Rep. Lujan pressed Zuckerberg on the practice today 😛 TAGEND

Lujan : Facebook has detailed profiles on people who have never signed up for Facebook, yes or no?

Zuckerberg : Congressman, in general we collect data on people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes to prevent the kind of scraping you were just referring to[ reverse searches based on public info like phone numbers ].

Lujan : So these are called shadow profiles, is that what they’ve been referred to by some?

Zuckerberg: Congressman, I’m not, I’m not familiar with that .

Lujan : I’ll refer to them as shadow profiles for today’s hearing. On average, how many data points does Facebook have on each Facebook user?

Zuckerberg : I do not know off the top of my head.

Lujan : Do you know how many points of data Facebook has on the average non-Facebook user?

Zuckerberg : Congressman, I do not know off the top of my head but I can have our team get back to you afterward.

Lujan : It’s been admitted by Facebook that you do collect data points on non-[ Facebook users ]. My question is, can someone who does not have a Facebook account opt out of Facebook’s involuntary data collected ?

Zuckerberg : Anyone can turn off and opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not, but in order to prevent people from scraping public information … we need to know when someone is repeatedly trying to access our services.

Lujan : It may surprise you that we’ve not “was talkin about a” this a lot today. You’ve said everyone controls their data, but you’re collecting data on people who are not even Facebook users who have never signed a consent, a privacy agreement .

And it may surprise you that on Facebook’s page when you go to” I don’t have a Facebook account and would like to request all my personal data stored by Facebook” it takes you to a kind that tells” go to your Facebook page and then on your account decideds you can download your data .”

So you’re directing people that don’t even have a Facebook page to sign up for a Facebook page to access their data … We’ve got to change that.

As TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas explained during a 2013 Facebook privacy scandal 😛 TAGEND

Chances are someone you have corresponded with — by email or mobile phone — has let Facebook’s data spiders crawl through their correspondence, thereby allowing your contact data to be assimilated altogether without your knowledge or consent.

During that privacy breach, Facebook uncovered the email addresses and phone numbers of six million users, though it subsequently became apparent that a chunk of those accounts were never handed over to the platform directly by Facebook users. This information can be drawn into Facebook’s vast data aggregation machine through friends or friends of friends via all kinds of channels, including the” find friends” feature that allows the app to scan mobile contacts.

For all of Zuckerberg’s claims that Facebook users own their data, users — and non-users — have no way of determining the full trove of data that the company stores on an individual. As Rep. Lujan was suggesting, it’s likely that the Facebook data users are able to view on the platform is likely merely the tip of the company’s immense data iceberg.

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Zuckerberg owns or clones most of the 8 social apps he cites as competition

Mark Zuckerberg’s flimsy defense when congress requested information about a lack of competition to Facebook has been to quotes that the average American uses eight social apps. But that conveniently glosses over the fact that Facebook owns three of the top 10 U.S. iOS apps:# 4 Instagram,# 6 Messenger, and# 8 Facebook according to App Annie. The top 3 apps are games. Facebook is constructing its Watch video hub to challenge# 5 YouTube, and has relentlessly cloned Stories to beat# 7 Snapchat. And Facebook also owns #19 WhatsApp. Zoom in to merely” social networking apps”, and Facebook owns the entire top 3.

” The average American I guess utilizes eight different communication and social apps. So there’s a lot of various types of option and a lot of innovation and activity going on in this space” Zuckerberg said when asked about whether Facebook is a monopoly by Senator Graham during yesterday’s Senate hearing, and he’s trotted out that same talking point that was on his note sheet during today’s House witnes.

But Facebook has relentlessly sought to acquire or co-opt the features of its challengers. That’s why any valuable regulation will require congress to prioritize rivalry. That entails either broken off Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp; avoiding regulations that are easy for Facebook to comply with but prohibitively expensive for potential challengers to manage; or ensuring data portability that allows users to select where to take their contents and personal information.

Breaking up Facebook, or at the least preventing it from acquiring established social networks in the future, would be the most powerful way to promote competition in the space. Facebook’s multi-app structure creates economies of scale in data that allow it to share ad targeting and sales teams, backend engineering, and relevancy-sorting algorithm. That constructs it tough for smaller challengers without as much fund or data to provide the public with more choice.

Regulation done wrong could create a moat for Facebook, locking in its result. Complex transparency statutes might be merely a paperwork velocity bump for Facebook and its army of lawyers, but could be too onerous for upstart companies to follow. Meanwhile, data collected regulation could avoid challengers from ever building as big of a data war chest as Facebook has already generated.

Data portability dedicates users the option to choose the best social network for them, rather than being stuck where they already are. Facebook provides a Download Your Information tool for exporting your content. But photos come back compressed, and you don’t get the contact info of friends unless they opt in. The listing of friends’ names you receive doesn’t allow you to find them on other apps the style contact info would. Facebook should at least offer a technique for your exporting hashed version of that contact info that other apps could use to help you find your friends there without violating the privacy rights of those friends. Meanwhile, Instagram altogether absence a Download Your Information tool.

Congress should push Zuckerberg to explain what apps compete with Facebook as a core identity provider, an omni-purpose social graph, or cross-platform messaging app. Without choice, users are at the compassion of Facebook’s policy and product examples. All of the congressional questions about data privacy and security don’t mean much to the public if they have no viable alternative to Facebook. The fact that Facebook owns or clones the majority of the 8 social apps used by the average American is nothing for Zuckerberg to boast about.

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Zuckerberg doesnt want to talk about changing the business model

Facebook is testifying is again before congress about the Cambridge Analytica debacle and Facebook’s privacy policy in general. One representative including with regard to nailed down Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s position on many subjects.

The U.S. Representative for California’s 18 th congressional district Anna Eshoo started by setting the tone. “First, I believe that our democratic institutions are undergoing a stress exam in our country, ” she said. “Putting our private information on offer without concern for possible misuses is simply irresponsible, ” she added.

Eshoo asked her constituents to submit questions that they want to ask Zuckerberg. The result is an intense four-minute yes-or-no round of questions.

While Zuckerberg was pretty good at answering yes or no to Eshoo’s topics, it wasn’t so simple with the business model topic. “Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy? ” she asked.

“Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data…” Zuckerberg told. Eshoo stopped him and recurred her question word for word.

“Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means, ” Zuckerberg said.

Earlier questions were also quite telling. “Do you think you have a moral responsibility to run a platform that protects our republic? Yes or no? ” she asked. After a short reluctance, Zuckerberg answered yes.

Later in the conversation, Eshoo asked if Facebook would offer a blanket opt-in option to share their personal data with third-party companies.

“Congresswoman, yes, that’s how our platform works. You have to opt in to sign in to any app before you use it, ” Zuckerberg said.

“Let me merely add that it is a minefield in order to do that and you have to make it transparent, clear, in pedestrian language:’ this is what we will do with your data, do you want this to happen or not? ’ So I think this is being blurred, I think you know what I entail, ” Eshoo said.

Even more interesting, when Zuckerberg used to say Facebook was analyse third-party developers who “had access to large amounts of data, ” Eshoo couldn’t take it.

“What does that mean? ” she said. Zuckerberg recurred his answer about the internal investigation, without clarifying what Zuckerberg means by large amounts of data and who qualifies for that.

No other representative thought about asking a basic question about Cambridge Analytica’s data. Eshoo asked if Zuckerberg’s data was included in the data sold to the malicious third party. Zuckerberg simply answered “yes.”

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Mark Zuckerberg: We do not sell data to advertisers

While many of us in the tech world are familiar with Facebook’s business model, there is a common delusion among people that Facebook collects information about you and then sells that information to advertisers.

Zuckerberg wants everyone( especially the U.S. Senate) to know that’s not the case, and has laid forth the most simple instance to explain it.

During his testimony, the Facebook CEO clarified to Senator John Cornyn that Facebook does not sell data.

There is a very common misconception that we sell data to advertisers, and we do not sell data to advertisers. What we let is for advertisers to tell us who they want to reach and then we do the placement. So, if an advertiser comes to us and tells,’ Alright, I’m a ski store and I want to sell skis to women ,’ then we might have some sense because people shared skiing related content or said they were interested in that. They shared whether they’re a woman. And then we can show the ads to the right people without that data ever changing hands and going to the advertiser. That’s a very fundamental part of how our model works and something that is often misunderstood.

While, again, this may seem straightforward to many of us, Zuckerberg detected himself having to explain more than once that Facebook does not sell data during the course of its Senate testimony.

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Zuckerbergs boring testimony is a big win for Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg ran his apology scripts, trotted out his listings of policy fixings and generally dulled the Senate into submission. And that constitutes success for Facebook.

Zuckerberg testified before the joint Senate judiciary and commerce committee today, capitalizing on the absence of knowledge of the political leaders and their surface-level questions. Half the time, Zuckerberg got to simply paraphrase blog posts and statements he’d already released. Much of the other half, he merely explained how basic Facebook functionality works.

The senators hadn’t done their homework, but he had. All that training with D.C. image consultants paid off.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC.( Photo: JIM WATSON/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Sidestepping any gotcha questions or meme-worthy sound bites, Zuckerberg’s repetitive answers gave the impression that there’s little left to uncover, whether or not that’s true. He made a persuading argument that Facebook is atoning for its sins, is cognizant of its responsibility and has a concrete scheme in place to improve data privacy.

With just five minutes per senator, and them each with a queue of questions to get through, few focused on the tougher queries, and even fewer had period for follow-ups to dig for real answers.

Did Facebook cover up the Cambridge Analytica scandal or decide against adding privacy protections earlier to protect its developer platform? Is it a breach of trust for Zuckerberg and other executives to have deleted their Facebook messages out of recipients’ inboxes? How has Facebook used a lack of data portability to hinder the rise of challengers? Why doesn’t Instagram let users export their data the route they can from Facebook?

The public didn’t get answers to any of those questions today. Just Mark’s steady voice regurgitating Facebook’s talking phases. Investors rewarded Facebook for its monotony with a 4.5 percentage share cost boost.

That’s not to say today’s hearing wasn’t effective. It’s just that potential impacts was feel before Zuckerberg waded through a hundred photographers to take his seat in the Senate office.

Facebook knew the working day was coming, and worked to build Zuckerberg a fortress of facts he could point to no matter what he got asked 😛 TAGEND

Was Facebook asleep at the wheel during the 2016 election? Yesterday it disclosed it had deleted the accounts of Russian GRU intelligence operatives in June 2016.

How will Facebook prevent this from happening again? Last week it announced plans to require identity and locating verification for any political advertiser or popular Facebook Page, and significantly limited its developer platform.

Is Facebook taking this seriously? Zuckerberg wrote in his prepared evidence for today that Facebook is doubling its security and content moderation squad from 10,000 to 20,000, and that” protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits .”

Is Facebook sorry?” We didn’t take a broad enough view of what its own responsibilities is and that was a huge mistake. That was my mistake ,” Zuckerberg has said , over and over.

Mark Zuckerberg: There will always be a version of Facebook that is free

Today during Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the Senate, the Facebook CEO reiterated that” there will always be a version of Facebook that is free .”

In the midst of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the user data supplied by up to 87 million people was sold by a third-party developer to Trump Campaign-linked firm Cambridge Analytica, there has been talk of Facebook potentially adding a subscription layer.

The scandal has brought to light the heart of a number of problems that many have been well aware of: if you’re not buying a product, you are the product.

Last week, when asked if there might be a style for users to opt out of being targeted for ads, Sandberg reacted saying they’d have to pay for it.

” We have different forms of opt-out, ” Sandberg responded.” We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product .”

Our own Josh Constine made an debate that ad-free subscriptions could save Facebook. And while there’s no term on an ad-free subscription, Zuckerberg did at least leave room for it in the future , noting that there will always be a version of Facebook that is free.

” How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service ?” Senator Orrin Hatch asked Zuckerberg.

” Senator, we run ads .”

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Sen. Kennedy to Mark Zuckerberg: Your user agreement sucks

As Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook testimony stretchings on, a rough exchange with Senator John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana rendered some of the day’s more memorable sound bites.

” Mr. Zuckerberg, I come in peace. I don’t want to vote to have to regulate Facebook, but by God I will ,” Sen. Kennedy began his short exchange.” In fact, a lot of that depends on you. I’m a little disappointed in this hearing today, I only don’t feel like we’re connecting .”

From there Kennedy railed against Zuckerberg for how Facebook communicated its user data policies with users of the product.

” Your user agreement sucks ,” the Republican senator went on.” The purpose of that user arrangement is to cover Facebook’s rear end, it’s not to inform your users about their rights. Now you know that, and I know that. I’m going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it .”

From here on, the exchange with an understandably tired Zuckerberg was a little rough. Kennedy’s knowledge of the Facebook product seemed to be a bit limited and Zuckerberg’s inability to respond with something not beginning with” Senator, we already …” didn’t help.

The testimony continues…

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