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‘Your user agreement sucks’: Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate grilling, in 10 key moments

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat down before lawmakers on April 10, and apologized, explained and defended the tech giant amid controversies over data privacy. (Video: Jenny Starrs, Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before a joint Senate panel Tuesday dragged on for hours, so if you missed much of it, we won't blame you. But if you're trying to catch up on the key points, we've drawn out a few important moments from the high-profile hearing. Here they are.

'We're responsible for the content'

Everyone knew that Zuckerberg would be entering the hearing with an apologetic tone; in his prepared remarks, Zuckerberg conceded that the Cambridge Analytica fiasco was "my mistake, and I'm sorry." But Zuckerberg also went further, acknowledging for the first time that his platform is ultimately responsible for the content that appears there. That's significant for a company that has historically presented itself as a neutral technology.

In clarifying his remarks later on, Zuckerberg highlighted how that view connects to the impression shared by some that Facebook should be considered a media company or a utility.

"I agree we’re responsible for the content, but we don’t produce the content," Zuckerberg told Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). "When people ask us whether we’re a media company or a publisher, what they’re getting at is, do we feel responsible for the content on our platform? I think the answer is clearly yes. But that’s not incompatible with our core … which is to build technology and build products."

That's the most Zuckerberg may have ever said about his views on the distinction between tech and media platforms.

Consumers are the victims of the Cambridge Analytica incident

Asked by Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) whether he thought Facebook's 87 million users who were affected by the Cambridge Analytica leak were victims, Zuckerberg said yes.

"Senator, I think — yes, they did not want their information to be sold to Cambridge Analytica by a developer," Zuckerberg said. "That happened, and it happened on our watch."

Later in the day, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) slammed Zuckerberg with blistering attacks.

"There's some impurities in the Facebook punch bowl," he said. "I don't want to have to vote to regulate Facebook. But by god, I will. That depends on you. … Your user agreement sucks."

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) on April 10 told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook’s “user agreement sucks.” (Video: Reuters)

Self-regulation may not be enough, but that's what artificial intelligence is for

Confronted by lawmakers who were skeptical of Facebook's ability to keep hate speech and abusive content off its platform, Zuckerberg repeatedly referred to the power of AI to help solve the problem.

"Building AI tools is going to be the scalable way to identify" harmful content, Zuckerberg told Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

The irony was not lost on some policy analysts, who pointed out the contradiction between lawmakers criticizing Facebook for being too powerful yet asking Facebook to create even more powerful tools.

No, Facebook isn't using your device's microphone to spy on you, Zuckerberg said

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) asked Zuckerberg to clarify what is a common belief among many users: That Facebook could be listening in on consumers' conversations using the microphones on electronic devices and then serving those people ads based on what the microphone picks up. Zuckerberg forcefully denied that Facebook is using smartphones to pick up ambient audio and called the idea a "conspiracy theory."

Zuckerberg made a ton of money during the hearing

Despite going to Washington to be held accountable for his self-admitted "mistake," shares of Facebook ended up higher Tuesday than at any point over the last two years. The result? Zuckerberg's net worth — which had taken a hit along with Facebook's stock in light of recent events — recovered by more than $3 billion over the afternoon, growing from roughly $63 billion to $67 billion, according to Bloomberg's billionaires index.

Zuckerberg tried to walk a tightrope on regulation

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) pressed Zuckerberg on whether he would support greater regulation of the tech industry.

"If it's the right regulation, then yes," Zuckerberg said.

That pattern played out repeatedly over the course of the hearing, with lawmakers demanding specific commitments to support specific bills or proposals and Zuckerberg playing coy, declining to endorse policies but instead expressing support for the "principles" behind them.

"We've seen the apology tours before," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). "Unless there are specific rules and requirements enforced by an outside agency, I have no assurance that these kinds of vague commitments are going to produce action."

Zuckerberg squirmed when asked to share his own personal data

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) drove straight at the heart of the matter when he asked Zuckerberg whether he would be comfortable sharing the name of the hotel he has been staying at. After a long moment, Zuckerberg admitted that he would not.

"I think that may be what this is all about," Durbin responded. "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.' "

Facebook has been 'working with' special counsel Robert S. Mueller III

Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook has been cooperating with Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference and that some Facebook officials may have been interviewed as part of the probe.

There were some awkward pauses and a few laughs when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before 44 senators in a hearing on data privacy. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

You own your Facebook data, but it takes a long time for it to be deleted if you leave

Zuckerberg made clear that users can freely download their Facebook data and do with it as they wish. He also confirmed that should you delete your data, that information will eventually be erased from Facebook's servers and made unusable by the company. But Zuckerberg admitted he didn't know how long Facebook retains your information after you make the decision to cancel your account. (Facebook's site says it can be up to 90 days.)

With Cambridge Analytica, Facebook says its policies worked

When researcher Aleksandr Kogan obtained permission from Facebook users to access their personal information, Zuckerberg argued, that "worked according to how the system was designed." But, he added, "Once [the data] is outside of our system, it's a lot harder for us to have a full understanding of what's happening."

And that sums up the entire problem for Facebook and the rest of the public.

Read more:

14 years of Mark Zuckerberg saying sorry, not sorry

Zuckerberg tells Congress 'we didn't do enough' to prevent privacy crises that rock Facebook

Transcript of Zuckerberg's Senate hearing

Analysis: A senator asked Mark Zuckerberg about a Facebook conspiracy theory that you may believe