Facebook finally got around to answering all those senators’ questions

Facebook finally got around to answering all those senators' questions
Quite the beach read.
Quite the beach read.
Image: Chesnot/getty

Looks like his team finally got back to them. 

Almost two full months after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dodged senators’ questions about the Cambridge Analytica and user privacy scandals with the vague promise that someone would be in touch, the advertising giant made good on his pledge and provided a host of answers on topics ranging from Russian trolls to whether or not Facebook is a media company. 

The 225-page PDF and separate 229-page PDF, comprising responses to both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, are a lot to wade through and will surely provide fodder for both Facebook’s boosters and critics over the coming weeks and months. However, a few of the company’s responses are immediately worth further examination — namely, that of the data Facebook collects on non-users and its possible monopoly status.  

When it comes to the first point, Facebook’s response was mostly direct. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a democrat from Hawaii, asked about so-called shadow profiles, and whether or not the company creates them. 

“We do not create profiles for non-Facebook users,” responded the company, “nor do we use browser and app logs for non-Facebook users to show targeted ads from our advertisers to them or otherwise seek to personalize the content they see.”

But, of course, the company does collect data on non-Facebook users — as even it admits in a rather long answer that seemingly wants to bore the reader into ignoring it. 

When people visit apps or websites that feature our technologies—like the Facebook Like or Comment button—our servers automatically log (i) standard browser or app records of the fact that a particular device or user visited the website or app (this connection to Facebook’s servers occurs automatically when a person visits a website or app that contains our technologies, such as a Like button, and is an inherent function of Internet design); and (ii) any additional information the publisher of the app or website chooses to share with Facebook about the person’s activities on that site (such as the fact that a purchase was made on the site).

Facebook also wrote that a non-user can request a copy of whatever data Facebook has on them by filling out a request form

Regarding Facebook’s status as a monopoly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar rightly suggests that Facebook is in a class of its own. 

“With more than two billion monthly active users, Facebook is by far the largest social networking platform on the internet,” writes the Minnesota Democrat. “Some have called Facebook a monopoly and claimed that Facebook has no true competition. If a Facebook user living in the United States wanted to switch to a different online social networking platform, what are the top ten alternative social networking platforms available?”

In response, Facebook’s team of lawyers — who we assume wrote all of this — muster a patently half-assed response: “In Silicon Valley and around the world, new social apps are emerging all the time.”

The company then goes on to insist that it has plenty of competition, like Snapchat, DailyMotion, and Pinterest. 

The fact that this is less than compelling is perhaps because, well, Facebook probably is a monopoly. 

Clearly, with new scandals dropping almost daily, these combined 454 pages of questions and answers aren’t the final word on Facebook. Thankfully for Mark Zuckerberg, his team of lawyers is waiting at the ready. 

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Author:Jack Morse

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