Congress grilled Facebook’s CEO today, unleashing critiques of his approach to cryptocurrency, privacy, encryption, and running a giant corporation. Mark Zuckerberg tried to assuage their fears while stoking concerns that if Facebook doesn’t build Libra, then the world will end up using China’s version. Yet Facebook won’t stop shaking up society, with Zuckerberg saying its News section will be announced this week.
During the hearing before the House Financial Services Committee that you can watch here, Zuckerberg recommitted to only releasing Libra with full US regulatory approval. But given the tone of the questioning and Zuckerberg’s lack of fresh answers since Facebook’s David Marcus testified about Libra in July, Libra now looks even less likely to launch in 2020. With few highlights or positive moments coming from the hearing, here are the lowlights that matter.
The hearing started tensely, with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) declaring that “Perhaps you believe that you’re above the law, and it appears that you are aggressively increasing the size of your company, and are willing to step over anyone, including your competitors, women, people of color, you own users, and even our democracy to get what you want . . . In fact, you have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.“
However, some members of congress used their time to advocate for American dominance instead of heavy regulation. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said “the question is, are we going to spend our time trying to devise ways for government planners to centralize and control as to who, when and how innovators can innovate.”
Zuckerberg tried to leverage nationalist sentiment to deflect scrutiny. “As soon as we put forward the white paper around the Libra project, China immediately announced a public private partnership, working with companies . . to extend the work that they’ve already done with AliPay into a digital Renminbi as part of the Belt and Road Initiative that they have, and they’re planning on launching that in the next few months.”
Facebook’s executives have repeatedly leaned on this “let us, or China will” argument we chronicle here.
Yet Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to blocking anonymous Libra wallets that could facilitate money laundering, only saying Facebook’s own Calibra wallet would have strong identity checks.
When pushed on why Libra Association members like Visa, Stripe, and eBay left the organization, Zuckerberg admitted “I think because it’s a risky project and there’s been a lot of scrutiny.”
Beyond Libra, Rep Ann Wagner (R-MO) chided Zuckerberg saying “you’re not working hard enough” to stop the spread of child exploitation imagery online despite Facebook submitting millions of reports. She brought up worries that Facebook moving entirely to encrypted messaging could hide child abusers, and Zuckerberg merely said “I think we work harder than any other company”. He failed to explain how Facebook would continue improving detection through encryption.
There’ll be more major launches from Facebook that could raise questions about its impact on society, Zuckerberg revealed. “Later this week we actually have a big announcement coming up on on launching a big initiative around news and journalism, where we’re partnering with a lot of folks to to to build a new product that’s supporting high quality journalism.” Facebook plans to launch a News section featuring headlines from top outlets, though only some will be paid.
The hearing is ongoing and we’ll continue to update this article with major takeways.