Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: Is the genie out of the bottle?
I spent two days watching and listening to Mark Zuckerberg being questioned by the House and the Senate. The video images show him seated with what seems to be a very large group of people. But it was an optical illusion of the camera lens.
He was sitting alone -- far from anyone. He had no legal or other counsel on either side. He took each question alone, showing his comfort and confidence in the glare of such intense global publicity.
Silicon Valley leader...
There is just a handful of people in the tech industry that would be capable of taking on two days of public interrogation sitting alone. Zuckerberg appeared to relish the challenge.
At one point he told a senator that had been highly critical but had run out of time, "That was pretty good!" as if he were a prizefighter and had just absorbed a decent jab from a civilian. Bring them on -- who's next?
Interestingly, Zuckerberg does not display any thin-skinned ego traits. Many tech industry egos are paper-thin sensitive to the slightest criticism and they require constant bathing in the adoration of lackeys and cooling aloe vera mists for their delicate personalities.
Where was Sheryl Sandberg?
Zuckerberg could have hid behind COO Sheryl Sandberg's "Clearly I'm an adult and a mom" personality. After apologizing he could have announced her as a responsible pair of hands for all future data security and ethics policing at Facebook and its partners.
The House and the Senate would have seen the "adult supervision" as a positive move and be satisfied for now.
But there was no Sheryl at the hearings to share in the apologies. In fact, no one from Facebook apologized except Zuckerberg and he did not apologize for the company but for himself. He went to great trouble to apologize personally showing that his mea culpa meant that the buck started and stopped with him.
"It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here."
Zuckerberg doesn't share
When Facebook filed for an IPO I pointed out that Mark Zuckerberg was able to take the company public as CEO despite his young age.
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had to accept "adult supervision" from Eric Schmidt who took over from Page as CEO several years prior to the IPO because of pressure from VCs.
I also pointed out that the Google founders still had adult supervision -- ten years on -- yet both founders were nearing 40 years old! Larry Page got his CEO job back within a few months.
Zuckerberg's carefully prepped two days on a global stage showed very clearly that Facebook is Zuckerberg and Zuckerberg is Facebook.
His control of the C-suite, boardroom and his majority ownership and votes means that he could push ahead with a strategy based on his ideas of what he wants regardless of shareholder or any other approval.
Read more: Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data on 50 million Facebook profiles to help target voters | Data breach exposes Cambridge Analytica's data mining tools | How Cambridge Analytica used your Facebook data to help elect Trump
Who'll speak for Google?
One of the legislators said it would be good to hear from Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. That won't happen because Page rarely speaks in public due to a worsening speech disability.
Sergey Brin is co-founder and President but he's more interested in stratospheric ventures -- he's building a $100 million airship. He's likely not the best to ask about Google's consumer data policies.
Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and Chairman is well known in D.C. but he unexpectedly quit the company earlier this year.
That leaves Sundar Pichai - the current CEO of Google who no one knows. Legislators live and die on their media visibility which is helped by the famous and notorious of which Pichai is neither.
I'd love to see Jack Dorsey from Twitter but there are few other Silicon Valley personalities of Zuckerberg's growing stature. Steve Cook from Apple for sure.
Interestingly, in Zuckerberg's notes captured by a news photographer, there is a "Steve Cook" section that points out Apple's data gaffes and asks to hold Apple to the same standards as Facebook. But there was nothing said about Google and its consumer data collection policies and problems.
Facebook and Google have a cozy relationship and try to stay out of each other's way. They hold more than 85% of new ad deals.
They displaced mass media but rejected the responsibilities that mass media carried -- keeping society and democracy safe from toxic content and fake news. It could take five years for Facebook's AI to to be able to manage what traditional media has been able to achieve for decades.
Here's what's next...
Regulations are inevitable. That was clear from the remarks made by the legislators and also by Zuckerberg.
"Let me first just set aside that my position isn't that there should be no regulation."
He publicly broke ranks with the Silicon Valley elite which promotes the drum-beat of self-regulation over any type of government oversight.
If Facebook has to take a hit on profits because of the thousands of new hires it needs to flag and delete content it will make sure others don't get away with not doing the same.
Zuckerberg will soon announce a new ad data initiative along with support for legislation that will address the way companies collect and use consumer data to make sure his competitors are on the same level playing field when it comes to carrying the burden of new regulations and the increased business costs for hiring tens of thousands of editors.
It will centralize even more advertising power for Facebook. Regulations are great because the government is now on your side.
Zuckerberg has an opportunity to use his personal visibility and his personal ownership of Facebook to potentially rewire the entire online advertising industry. He'll make it better for Facebook -- but the ad tech sector is set for a shakeup, imho.
- CNET: See if Cambridge Analytica accessed your Facebook data
- Adjust these privacy settings now
- Now only authorized buyers allowed to run political "issue" ads
- The data game is changing before our eyes
- Rant: Zuckerberg gets privacy and you get nothing
- 5 big questions for businesses and developers (TechRepublic)
- Facebook will pay you to track down apps that misuse your data