BY NEIL GRASSO
Your personal information may be in the hands of Russian intelligence.
This was one of the focal points made by lawmakers present during Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s five-hour long Senate hearing on April 10. The hearing lasted two full sessions, the second of which took place on April 11.
The hearings primarily focused on the accusation that Facebook is facing, regarding its alleged improper handling of its users’ private data, during the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
Last March, Facebook was exposed for what the Associated Press called the “worst-ever privacy failure,” after it was revealed that the company was unable to prevent British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica from improperly obtaining data on over 87 million Facebook users.
This user data was then allegedly used to help target audiences for advertisement campaigns of high-ranking political figures during the months leading up to the 2016 election.
Examples of such figures included the junior Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz and the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
Former United States National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who worked briefly under President Trump, was said to have strong ties to both Cambridge Analytica and Russian operatives during this time.
Rumors emerged claiming the data was acquired by Russian officials as a result of these ties, but no official reports have come forward confirming these claims.
During the Senatorial hearing, Zuckerberg answered questions ranging from senior level responsibility, to privacy policies, to whether or not he believed Facebook itself is a monopoly.
“We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company,” Zuckerberg said in response to questions concerning Facebook’s privacy policies, from South Dakota Senator John Thune. “I think it’s — it’s pretty much impossible, I — I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we’re at now without making some mistakes.”
The questioning began to intensify on the second day of hearings. When asked if there was a favorable bias towards liberal content during the 2016 presidential election on the social media platform, Zuckerberg responded saying, “There is absolutely no directive, in any of the changes that we make, to have a bias in anything that we do.”
Many students enrolled in Computer Science courses here at Sacred Heart University have been debating the issues of data security, online privacy, and business ethics as a result of the hearings.
Zach Cloutier, a senior Computer Science major, has discussed these issues in his Computer Ethics course, taught by Professor Frances Grodzinsky.
“Internet privacy will remain a mysterious concept to people as long as the terms and conditions, of which we must agree to in order to use these platforms, maintain their evasive nature,” said Cloutier.
“In other words, the process in which privacy rights are displayed to the user right now is confusing. No one reads the terms and conditions because they are formatted in a way that is difficult for many to fully understand.”
“This business model is dangerous because it does not protect the average user that doesn’t read the fine print,” said Professor Grodzinsky, who was recently featured on Sacred Heart University Radio to discuss the hearings.
“Is [this model]good for Facebook? Yes, because it makes them a lot of money. Is it good for us? No, because it exposes all of our private information to third-party advertisers.”