Facebook Takes the Punches While Rest of Silicon Valley Ducks

Last year lawyers for Facebook, Twitter and Google appeared in Congress to answer questions about foreign meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But in the recent scandal over personal data, only Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg ended up testifying.

SAN FRANCISCO — Two pages of notes sitting in a binder in front of Mark Zuckerberg during his congressional testimony this week hinted at a message the Facebook chief executive rarely got a chance to deliver: We’re not the only ones.

Mr. Zuckerberg was prepared to say that his company accounts for just a slice of the $650 billion advertising market and that it has plenty of competitors. Google, for example, has an online advertising business more than twice the size of Facebook’s. And Google also collects vast amounts of information about the people who use its online services.

But as Facebook has taken it on the chin over the way it has handled the personal information of its users, the leaders of other tech companies have demonstrated that even in publicity-hungry Silicon Valley, it is entirely possible for billionaire executives and their sprawling empires to keep a low profile.

What set Mr. Zuckerberg apart? The personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users ended up in the hands of the voter-profiling firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked with the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election. Google and the biggest tech companies — as far as anyone knows — have never made such a giant mistake.

Mr. Zuckerberg was the only executive to testify in two days of hearings this week. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, were also asked to testify by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But when that hearing combined with one from another committee, which had not asked for Google or Twitter’s participation, Mr. Pichai and Mr. Dorsey were let off the hook, said company officials and congressional aides.

For now, at least.

Before the hearing on Tuesday, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent letters to Mr. Pichai and Mr. Dorsey with 14 questions. In his letter to Google, Mr. Grassley wanted to “understand how Google manages and monitors user privacy for the significant amounts of data which it collects.”

The companies have until April 25 to respond. When asked whether they were concerned about congressional or regulatory scrutiny, Google and Twitter, through company representatives, declined to comment.

“Outside of Facebook, there is probably no company paying more attention” than Google, said Jason Kint, a frequent critic of Google and Facebook and chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade group that represents entertainment and news organizations, including The New York Times. “They’re absolutely ducking for cover while the heat is on Facebook. They don’t want to try to trip any alarms.”

Mark Zuckerberg, questioned about Facebook’s tracking of logged-off users, pointed out that Google and “the rest of the industry” employed similar tactics.

Like Facebook, Google collects vast amount of data on users — including their YouTube choices, internet searches and location history — to target advertisements. Facebook has more than two billion users globally, but Google has seven products,…

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Peter Bordes

Exec Chairman & Founder at oneQube
Exec Chairman & Founder of oneQube the leading audience development automation platfrom. Entrepreneur, top 100 most influential angel investors in social media who loves digital innovation, social media marketing. Adventure travel and fishing junkie.
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