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Wednesday, 11 April 2018 11:43

Facebook lives on personal data. But Zuckerberg won't admit it


Just one nugget of truth has emerged from all the brouhaha over Facebook, including the much-touted appearance by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg before the US Senate on Tuesday US time.

And that was a statement from Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg last week that if users of the social media site were unwilling to allow their personal data to be used by Facebook, then they would have to pay for the service.

That was the only acknowledgement by any Facebook official that the company cannot run its business without personal data. All the bowing and scraping by Zuckerberg as he was asked mostly irrelevant questions by grandstanding US politicians did not result in providing any information about how the mess created by the company can be cleaned up.

There were a couple of porkies told by Zuckerberg when he claimed to having informed both sides of US politics that Russians were targeting the 2016 US presidential poll, only for Robby Mook, a member of Hillary Clinton's team, to come out and issue a flat denial.

Zuckerberg did the normal grovelling act and kept his tone low and respectful. But he had a full set of notes from which to pick his answers, no surprise given that he can recruit the best-paid PR flacks in the US.

He made all the right noises that politicians expect, with well-scripted remarks. "For the first 10 or 12 years of the company, I viewed our responsibility as primarily building tools that, if we could put those tools in people's hands, then that would empower people to do good things,” he said.

“What I think we've learned now across a number of issues, not just data privacy but also fake news and foreign interference in elections, is that we need to take a more proactive role and a broader view of our responsibility. It’s not enough to just build tools. We need to make sure that they’re used for good.”

A second day of such grovelling will take place on Wednesday US time. Anyone expecting serious steps to regulate the company can forget about it - Facebook's biggest donations go to the committee that questioned him.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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