Too little, too late? Many Indians feel that Mark Zuckerberg's apology is meaningless

Is this too little, too late or does this really affect Facebook usability in any way? This has been a buzzword within the Desi community here in the USA.

Tuesday was a must-watch-cable-television-kind-of-day. I can’t remember any other congressional testimony in recent times, apart from former FBI Director James Comey’s, that folks here in the US were more eagerly waiting to see and hear. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who, after remaining silent for months while the controversy raged over whether Facebook intentionally or unintentionally helped Cambridge Analytica in gathering Facebook users’ data that ended up benefiting the Trump campaign during the 2016 elections, offered a written statement to lawmakers before the hearing. "It was my mistake, and I'm sorry," he said.

Too little, too late? Many Indians feel that Mark Zuckerbergs apology is meaningless

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens while testifying before the Senate Committee hearing. Reuters.

Is this too little, too late or does this really affect Facebook usability in any way? This has been a buzzword within the Desi community here in the USA. Certainly, the anger is there. Satyan, a veteran entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, California, feels that Facebook has always been fully aware of what was going on with the privacy issue and its impact. “Rather than face the music early on, they made it a business decision to shove it under the rug. Their apologies are meaningless,” he says, adding that Facebook has not only impacted US Elections but might have caused Brexit too. “We advertise our products on Facebook and know very well how their advert system works,” he adds.

Donald Trump’s 2016 win is still too raw for many. Babu Chimata, an IT Executive in Minneapolis, blames Facebook entirely for Donald Trump’s win. “These guys are the ones who made Trump, who changed the dynamics of this country. For me it’s not a privacy issue anymore – they harvested our data and targeted a segment that pushed his win by using behavioral analytics – That’s why Trump was consistently hitting on this segment, generating controversy that was picked up and mass-circulated by a very willing media. The Russian bots targeted Twitter too, but the impact through Facebook was much, much more,” Chimata feels.

Nimish Singh, a Silicon Valley IT Executive, holds an interesting point of view. “From a technical angle, the users have never been the customers of Facebook. We, the users, are their products and their customers are the advertisers. This is their business model, which has always been to lure advertisers with data provided by us,” he says. “It was not obvious to us then but that’s how they made money,” he adds. Facebook now needs to make sure boundaries are clearly drawn and defined around what is private and personal data – “make it transparent and understood to the users on what they are signing up for”, Singh says.

“What I’ll be waiting and watching is what steps Zuckerberg is going to be taking so this doesn’t happen again,” says a Search Engine Marketeer here in Minneapolis, who has started advising her clients to stay away from Facebook advertising. “Advertisers will start shying away from Facebook and that will affect their bottom line,” she feels. Citing Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s decision to delete his Facebook account, she believes this is just the beginning. “Unless big changes are made by Zuckerman, more famous names will start following this exodus,” she says. Her name has been withheld at her request.

According to Saji Salam, a tech-angel investor living in Texas, after a series of hacks, including the one at Equifax that impacted 145 million credit card holders in the US, “all you can now expect if your data is breached is an apology from the custodians of your data,” he says. “The optics of the testimony and the public relations exercise currently underway may provide a temporary relief from the nosebleed to Facebook stock,” he feels.

According to Salam, this may just be the beginning of a series of regulatory scrutiny measures that Facebook may face across the globe, including from the European Union, which has a tougher stance on data privacy and other transgressions by US based tech giants. “Remember, Google was fined $2.7 billion recently by the European Union in an anti-trust conflict and Facebook a $100 million in the context of WhatsApp acquisition,” he says.

The long-term impact of global regulatory review on Facebook’s business model is yet to be seen.

The highlights from Zuckerberg's testimony before the senate committee can be found here.

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