In a long day of fairly predictable testimony, one exchange about privacy took a personal turn.
Mark Zuckerberg's more than five hours of testimony before Congress was mostly staid, polite, and unexciting. But there was one made-for-TV moment, when Democrat Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, posed a couple of simple questions:
"Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?"
"Um ... " Zuckerberg said, then paused and chuckled uncomfortably. "No." (Apparently that question was not among his talking points, which a clever photographer managed to capture with a high-res camera.) The audience burst out laughing.
"If you've messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you've messaged?" Durbin continued.
"Senator, no I would probably not choose to do that publicly here," Zuckerberg answered, more confidently this time.
Durbin, of course, was making a point about privacy. "I think that might be what this is all about," he said. The question, he went on, was what information Facebook was collecting, who had access to that information, and whether Facebook users had ever been asked about how their information would be shared.
That opened the door for Zuckerberg to--one more time--explain Facebook's privacy policies around the information people post to the platform and how Facebook users who post to the site always know exactly who can see those posts. But that hasn't always been the case, Durbin said, bringing the topic back to Cambridge Analytica and the fact that it collected data from 87 million Facebook users.
Durbin let Zuckerberg off too easy--he should have insisted that the Facebook founder tell him everyone he'd texted with. After all, if the senator is an Android user, Facebook likely already has that information about Durbin. In accordance with its own policies, Facebook has been logging every phone call and text of all Android users who downloaded its mobile app and gave the app permission to access their contacts.
Want us to "continuously upload"?
For years, it did this without telling users it was logging their calls and texts. More recently, its permission request asks users if they want Facebook to "continuously upload info about your contacts like phone numbers and nicknames, and your call and text history." Those last few words are very easy to miss, however. Facebook also recently changed its settings so that you can ask the service to continue using your contacts but stop logging your calls and texts. But only if you go to the settings page on your phone and can find the correct setting to change. Otherwise, by default, Facebook is logging your calls and texts.
When Facebook's call and text logging came to light last month, many users were outraged but the company insisted it had done nothing wrong. "Contact importers are fairly common among social apps and services as a way to more easily find the people you want to connect with," Facebook explained in a statement. As though there is no difference between accessing someone's contacts and tracking that person's every phone call and text message.
Facebook is tightly under Zuckerberg's control, so if Facebook believes that gathering and storing data about the phone calls you make and texts you send is no big deal, then presumably he should think so too. So c'mon, Mark! Hand over the data on all the texts you sent and received for the past seven days. We've made it easy--we're only asking for texts, not texts and phone calls, as you did. And we're only asking for a week, not the years of data you've collected.
If you don't want to hand over the data about your text messages--if it seems like an invasion of your privacy--then why are you still collecting that information from all of us?
Here's the conversation between Zuckerberg and Durbin: