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How Florida lawmakers handled Mark Zuckerberg at Wednesday’s congressional hearing

Tampa Bay-area U.S. Representatives Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis questioned the Facebook CEO.
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor  has endorsed Democrat Mariella Smith in her race for Hillsborough County commissioner. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor has endorsed Democrat Mariella Smith in her race for Hillsborough County commissioner. CHARLIE KAIJO | Times
Published Apr. 11, 2018
Updated Apr. 11, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg faced another day of questions on Capitol Hill Wednesday. And for the second day in a row, Florida lawmakers factored prominently in the grilling.

Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa and Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor asked pointed questions of he Facbook CEO, with Castor focusing on overall privacy and Bilirakis honing in on a concern raised by a constituent.

The lawmakers got four minutes to question Zuckerberg, who appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Read transcripts of the lawmakers' questioning of Zuckerberg below.

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Castor: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, Mr. Zuckerberg. For all the benefits Facebook has provided in building communities and connecting families, I think a devil's bargain has been struck. And in the end, Americans do not like to be manipulated. They do not like to be spied on. We don't like it when someone is outside of our home watching. We don't like it when someone is following us around the neighborhood or — even worse — following our kids or stalking our children. Facebook now has evolved to a place where you are tracking everyone. You are collecting data on just about everybody. Yes, we understand the Facebook users that proactively sign in are part of that platform, but you're following Facebook users even after they log off of that platform and application, and you are collecting personal information on people who do not even have Facebook accounts. Isn't that right?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I believe —

Castor: Yes or no.

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I'm not sure that — I don't know that that's what we're tracking —

Castor: No, you're collecting — you have already acknowledged that you are doing that for security purposes and commercial purposes. So you're collecting data outside of Facebook. When someone goes to a website and it has the Facebook like or share, that data is being collected by Facebook, correct?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman —

Castor: Yes or no.

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, that's right, that we, that we understand in order to show which of your friends —

Castor: So for people that don't even have Facebook — I don't think that the average American really understands that today. Something that fundamental. And that you're tracking everyone's online activity. Their searches. You can track what people buy. Correct?

Zuckerberg. Congressman, Congresswoman —

Castor: You're collecting that data. What people purchase. Online. Yes or no.

Zuckerberg: I actually — if they share it with us. Congresswoman, overall I —

Castor: Because it has a share button, so it's, it's gathering — Facebook has the application — in fact, you patented applications to do just that, isn't that correct? Collect that data?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I don't any of those buttons share transaction data. But broadly, I disagree with that characterization —

Castor: But they track you. You are collecting medical data, correct? On people that are on the internet, whether they're Facebook users or not, right?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, yes. We collect some data for some —

Castor: And you're collecting — you watch where we go? Senator Durbin had a funny question yesterday about where you're staying and you didn't want to share that, but you — Facebook also gathers that data about where we travel. Isn't that correct?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, everyone has control over how that works.

Castor: I'm going to get to that, but yes, you are — would you just acknowledge that yes, Facebook is, that's the business you're in. Gathering data and aggregating that data? Correct?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I disagree with that characterization.

Castor: You're not — are you saying you do not gather data on where people travel based upon their internet and the ways they sign in and things like that?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, the primary way that Facebook works is that people choose to share data. And they share —

Castor: The primary way, but the other way that Facebook gathers data is you buy data from data brokers outside of the platform, correct?

Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we just announced two weeks ago that we were going to stop interacting with data brokers and even though that's an industry norm to make it so that the advertising can be more relevant —

Castor: But I think in the end, I think that what — see, it's practically impossible these days to remain untracked in America. For all the benefits Facebook has brought and the internet. And that's not a part of the bargain. And current laws have not evolved and Congress has not adopted laws to address digital surveillance. And Congress should act. And I do not believe that the controls, the opaque agreement — consent agreement — the settings, are an adequate substitute for fundamental privacy protections for consumers. Thank you, I yield back my time. And I'd like to ask unanimous consent that I put my constituents' questions in the record. Thank you.

Gus Bilirakis 

Billirakis: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate it. Thanks for your testimony, Mr. Zuckerberg. Well first of all, I wanted to follow up with Mr. McKinley's testimony. This is bad stuff, Mr. Zuckerberg, with regard to the illegal online pharmacies. When are those ads — I mean, when are you going to take those off? I think we need an answer to that. I think they need to get off — we need to get these off as soon as possible. Can you give us an answer? A clear answer as to when these pharmacies — we have an epidemic here with regard to the opioids. I think we're owed a clear answer. A definitive answer as to when these ads will be offline.

Zuckerberg: Congressman, if people flag those ads for us, we will take them down now.

Bilirakis: Now?

Zuckerberg: Yes.

Bilirakis: By the end of the day?

Zuckerberg: If people flag them for us, we will look at them as quickly as we can —

Bilirakis: You have knowledge now. You have knowledge. You have knowledge of those ads. Will you begin to take them down today?

Zuckerberg: The ads that are flagged for us we will review and take down if they violate our policies, which I believe the ones you're talking about —

Bilirakis: They clearly do. They're illegal. They clearly violate your laws.

Zuckerberg: Which they do, but what I think really needs to happen here is not just us reviewing content that gets flagged for us. We need to be able to build tools that can proactively go out an identify what might be these ads for opioids before people even have to flag them for us to review.

Bilirakis: I agree.

Zuckerberg: That's, that's going to be a longer-term thing, in order to build that solution. But today, if someone flags the ads for us, we will take them down.

Bilirakis: Work on those tools as soon as possible, please. OK, next question. A constituent of mine in District 12 of Florida, the Tampa Bay area, came to me recently with what was a clear violation of your privacy policy. In this case, a third party organization publicly posted personal information about my constituent on his Facebook page. This included his home address, voting record, degrading photos and other information. In my opinion, this is cyberbullying. For weeks, my constituent tried reaching out to Facebook on multiple occasions through its report feature, but the offending content remained. It was only when my office got involved that the posts were removed almost immediately for violating Facebook policy. How does Facebook's self-reporting policy work to prevent misuse, and why did it take an act of Congress — a member of Congress — to get, again, a clear policy violation removed from Facebook? If you can answer that question, I'd appreciate it, please.

Zuckerberg: Congressman, that clearly sounds like a big issue, and something that would violate our policies. I don't have specific knowledge of that case, but what I imagine happened given what you just said is they reported it to us, and one of the people who reviews content probably made an enforcement error. And then when, when you reached out, we probably looked at it again and realized that it violated the policies and took it down. We have a number of steps that we need to take to improve the accuracy of our enforcement.

Bilirakis: Absolutely.

Zuckerberg: That's a big issue.

Bilirakis: It has to be consistent.

Zuckerberg: And we have to get to content faster and we have to be able to do better at this. I think the same solution to the opioid question that you raised earlier of doing more with automated tools will lead to both faster response times and more accurate enforcement of the policies.

Bilirakis: Can you give us a timeline as to when will this be done? I mean this is very critical for our — I mean, listen. My family uses Facebook. My friends, my constituents. We all use Facebook. I use Facebook. It's wonderful for our seniors to connect with our relatives. I'm sorry, can I submit for the record my additional questions? Thank you. Thank you so much.