On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees welcomed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to a highly-anticipated hearing centered around Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and a data breach by Cambridge Analytica.
But in terms of what Zuckerberg actually told Congress, well, we’ll have to have our team look into that and get back to you.
Because while Facebook is probably doing a lot of things they don’t want public, Zuckerberg evaded any pointed question with the words, “I’ll have to have my team follow up with you on that.”
Frequently, Zuckerberg pledged to follow up on questions pertaining to how Facebook harvests and uses data.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) began his questioning by asking the Zuck if he “knew of any instances where user data was improperly transferred to third-party in breach of Facebook terms.”
In response, the Facebook CEO said that his company is auditing “tens of thousands of apps” before admitting “I don’t have all the examples of apps that we’ve banned here but if you like, I can have my team follow up with you after this.”
When Grassley doubled down, asking how Facebook has handled improperly transferred data in the past, Zuckerberg repeated: “I can make sure I have my team follow up with you on anything—the specific past stats that might be interesting.”
Finally, a defeated Grassley said, “I was going to assume that sitting here today, you have no idea. And if I’m wrong on that, you’re telling me, I think, that you’re able to supply those figures to us.”
For a third time, Zuckerberg pledged: “I will have my team follow up with you on what information we have.”
Later, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s ability to collect the call and text histories of users on Android phones. After attempting to dodge for a moment and clarifying that users have to opt-in for that feature, Zuckerberg admitted that his platform tracks call and text histories.
When Wicker asked if Facebook also collects the call and text histories of users “ages 13 to 17,” the Zuck hit his now well-worn panic button, responding “I do not know. I’ll have to follow up with you on that.”
In one of the more telling I’ll-have-to-follow-up-with-you moments of the day, Wicker asked Zuckerberg if “Facebook can track a user’s internet browsing history even after that user has logged off the Facebook platform.”
Though Facebook’s capabilities to do so are well-documented, the young tech billionaire responded: “Senator, I want to make sure I get this accurate so it would probably be better to have my team follow up afterwards.”
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) echoed Wicker’s line of questioning later, asking “Do you collect user data through cross-device tracking … data that’s tracking that’s not necessarily linked to Facebook but linked to some device they went to Facebook on?”
Again, Zuckerberg responded: “Senator, I want to make sure we get this right so I want to have my team follow up with you afterwards.”
The issue of harvesting data from children re-emerged when Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked Zuckerberg “would … support a privacy bill of rights where opt-in is the standard?” After a heated back-and-forth, Zuckerberg was saved by the bell when Markey’s five minutes of questioning expired.
But for good measure, he chirped “Senator, I look forward to having my team follow up to flesh out the details of it.”
Unsurprisingly, Zuck got a little uneasy whenever the Hill-dwellers suggested that regulations could force Facebook to fix their problems. But they were also willing to give him plenty of rope and almost every time a senator attempted to back him into a corner and put specifics on the books, Zuckerberg promised to follow up.
When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked him if Facebook would “work with us in terms of what regulations you think are necessary in your industry,” Zuckerberg seemed a bit put off by the word “regulations” but said “Yes, and I’ll have my team follow up with you so that we can have this discussion across the different categories where I think this discussion needs to happen.”
Zuckerberg also promised to follow up whenever a lawmaker asked for specifics on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) both hit him with questions about the data analytics firm that worked with the Trump campaign to target Americans and whenever exact numbers were brought up, Zuckerberg promised to follow up.
As for all those issues that Zuckerberg has to follow up on, there’s a pretty good chance that “his team” is actually a friendly way to say his legions of lobbyists. Facebook spent over $11.5 million on lobbyists in 2017 per OpenSecrets. And that much dough buys plenty of time to “follow up;” especially when lawmakers are looking to regulate.