To Drive Home A Point About Privacy, Sen. Dick Durbin Asked Mark Zuckerberg About His Hotel

Sen. Dick Durbin said he thought the question got to the heart of the matter.

Some critics have called elements of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Tuesday testimony before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees awkward, as some senators seemed to fumble with widely-accepted tenets of Silicon Valley and the tech industry. But one decidedly analog question to Zuckerberg from Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois emphasized the real-world implications of the Facebook hearing amidst the political intrigue and the Cambridge Analytica scandal headlines.

Durbin's question to Zuckerberg was simple, but it took the social media magnate visibly aback.

"Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?" the Illinois senator asked.

After a brief pause, Zuckerberg said he would not be willing to reveal his hotel's name, to laughter from the room.

"If you've messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you've messaged?" Durbin pressed. Zuckerberg replied with more certainty to this second question, saying that he would "probably not choose to do that publicly here."

"I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you give away in modern America in the name of, quote, 'connecting people around the world,'" Durbin observed to Zuckerberg. He continued: "A question, basically, of what information Facebook's collecting, who they're sending it to, and whether they ever asked me, in advance, my permission to do that."

It is rare — if not unheard of — for social platforms to directly ask users about if they'd like to share specific bits of data like the location of one's hotel room with specific entities, as Durbin did Zuckerberg. More common are strategies similar to those employed by Facebook that ask users to set default, global privacy settings on types of posts, or ask users to sign on to a far-reaching terms of service that defines, on a top-level, how information can be shared.

As Zuckerberg noted in response to Durbin's line of questioning, Facebook has provided privacy settings so that users can control some of the data they share with other users, as well as limited access by developers to user data. But those settings and those limitations remain under scrutiny, and among a myriad of other platform-related privacy concerns be the subject of a second Congressional hearing on Wednesday, this time in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Cover image via catwalker / Shutterstock.com.

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