(image from Marketwatch.com)
Before I give my thoughts on the Zuckerberg hearing, I want to frame my perspective a bit…
My Facebook journey began when I was transitioning from high school into college, back when you had to have a .edu email address to get an account. Since then, my relationship with the platform has evolved quite a bit. Nowadays, I do A LOT of work inside of Facebook. I manage many different business accounts and advertising campaigns for clients and myself. I even dip into the developer side of things by integrating online systems into the Facebook API.
Watching the congressional hearing over the past few days has been kind of surreal. Many of the concerns addressed were things that I have personally been working around for years. Definitely not at the same scale, but anyone who has worked with Facebook will tell you that there are clear similarities.
I felt like I could really understand how developers were manipulating the Facebook API and the company in general in order to get what they wanted.
I also felt like I could relate to Zuckerberg as he did his best to explain how these sort of things happened and the great lengths his company goes to in order to try to prevent/fix them.
Listening to the questions, it did seem like the congresspeople did their best to try and understand just what the hell was going on (although it did remind me of trying to explain how a DVD player worked to my grandpa when I was a kid). Some made efforts to express anger and frustration. There were even a few that took the hearing as an opportunity to promote their own bills and therefore themselves (fuck your commercial, congressperson).
I’ll save my opinions on politicians for a different time, but I do want to make a point about something that became clear during the hearing.
There is an enormous knowledge gap between companies and government when it comes to the general understanding of how Internet-based technologies are used.
Zuckerberg had to explain business practices that have been in use forever (at least as long as the modern internet age has been in place) including how an ad-based business model works. “congressman, we use ads” is the popular meme floating around the internet today.
The congresspeople completely hammered Zuckerberg on data breaches. All the while, they seemingly never acknowledged the fact that Facebook is lightyears ahead of the government when it comes to protecting data.
Zuckerberg tried to explain that Facebook, on it’s own accord, was taking measures to ensure that foreign governments were not hacking into campaign databases. Granted, Facebook was unable to protect against all invasions but there is a much bigger problem here.
How is it possible that our own government, one that spends BILLIONS on “defense,” is so far behind when it comes to real and powerful threats on the internet?
Then, an American sits in front of Congress explaining how his company has been battling on this front for years and is winning some incredible victories. Some definite losses too, losses that have resulted in very bad things.
The response… This is all Zuckerberg’s fault and he has done an incredible disservice to the American people.
Are you serious!?
Let me be clear, Facebook fucked up, big time. They made some serious errors in the way that data is shared between companies and they got bit. Their users got bit too. This is, by no means, a good situation.
But can we really place all the blame on Facebook? Can we honestly sit in a high tower and throw stones at arguably the most incredible success story of the modern internet era?
I would hope not.
My hope is that we (referring to the government and the American people) work very closely with Facebook. We should be collaborating on ways to improve internet security without sacrificing liberties.
I think that Facebook certainly has some things to learn about accountability.
The government has A LOT to learn about how the online world works.
Hopefully, we can come together and improve both sides of the coin.
What’s going to happen now?
The general opinion out there is that regulation is coming (brace yourself).
I think that the more important question is, WHO is going to be impacted the most?
My opinion is that medium-sized businesses are going to feel the pain, at least initially.
I have already spoken to colleagues who have had to put projects on hold because Facebook has locked down the developer portal.
Changes are going to come to how businesses use the ads manager and what data they can use. This is going to have a big impact on the ability for businesses to advertise and compete with each other.
Will it be all bad? No way. As our good friend Little Finger used to say, “chaos is a ladder.”
One thing is for sure. Changes are coming.