Did Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Intend To Deceive? Regulators missed a chance to find out if deceptive practices at Facebook came from the top when they decided to enter into a settlement with Zuckerberg instead of questioning him, an FTC member says.
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Did Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Intend To Deceive?

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Did Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Intend To Deceive?

Did Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Intend To Deceive?

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This past week, the Federal Trade Commission decided to enter into a settlement with Mark Zuckerberg, head of Facebook, which I'll say here is an NPR sponsor. The FTC entered into that settlement without interviewing Zuckerberg first. And as NPR's Aarti Shahani reports, the government may have missed its chance to find out more about Facebook's practices.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The year was 2014. Mark Zuckerberg was onstage at F8, Facebook's annual conference, with a promise to users.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG: The thing is we don't ever want anyone to be surprised about how they're sharing on Facebook. I mean, that's not good for anyone.

SHAHANI: His company had gotten caught taking the personal data of Facebook users and, without consent, handing it off to outsiders, third-party app developers. So this was his promise.

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ZUCKERBERG: Now we're going to change this, and we're going to make it so that now everyone has to choose to share their own data with an app themselves. So we think that this is a really important step for giving people power and control.

SHAHANI: Sounds great - only, it wasn't true. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Facebook kept handing over user data secretly without consent to dozens of outside developers. Mark Zuckerberg said one thing while his company did another. It was not an isolated incident. In 2018, he did it again - this time, not on his own stage but in front of the entire country.

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ZUCKERBERG: It's clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well.

SHAHANI: Zuckerberg, summoned to the U.S. Congress, apologized for enabling Russian interference in the American elections, for helping to spread hate speech and also for violating the privacy of users.

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ZUCKERBERG: And that was a big mistake, and it was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook. I run it. And I'm responsible for what happens here.

SHAHANI: Sounds great - only, in the same month Zuckerberg gave that speech, regulators say the company began to use facial recognition tracking on some 60 million users - again, without consent. Rohit Chopra is an FTC commissioner who voted against entering the settlement with Facebook.

ROHIT CHOPRA: It's still really a mystery to me as to what role he played.

SHAHANI: The majority of his colleagues - three Republicans - voted in favor of settling. Facebook got fined for $5 billion. The regulators say that's more than they would have gotten in court if they'd litigated. Chopra, a Democrat, says his agency underplayed its hand and sacrificed the truth in the process.

CHOPRA: We cut off this investigation too early. Facebook was willing to pay more money in order to hide Mark Zuckerberg's testimony from this investigation.

SHAHANI: The FTC spoke to Zuckerberg's lawyers, never to him. He was not required to answer questions or turn over his emails. And the settlement lets the CEO off the hook for the many privacy mishaps the FTC scrutinized. It bothers Chopra that his agency didn't pursue the truth. Zuckerberg's actions may stand at odds with the philanthropic, altruistic image he's worked so hard to cultivate. And he isn't just a CEO. He structured the stock so that he controls the majority of votes in Facebook. Chopra says in other cases, when a chief calls the shots in a firm, the FTC takes a hard look at him or her.

CHOPRA: We didn't even want to look at something that seemed fundamentally important and instead traded it away for a higher fine. And none of that money will actually go to Facebook's users.

SHAHANI: The $5 billion goes to the U.S. Treasury. Zuckerberg lauded the settlement, saying in a post that his company has a privacy-focused vision. Facebook did not respond to Chopra's criticisms when NPR asked. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg's team is on Capitol Hill trying to get permission to mint money, a new digital currency. This cannot succeed without the public trust. Facebook is making the case that lawmakers and regulators should trust it. Chopra says he doesn't trust Mark Zuckerberg or his company. Aarti Shahani, NPR News.

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