‘Um, uh, no’: Mark Zuckerberg stumped by question about his hotel as Facebook CEO’s notes reveal prepared answers

Asked what hotel he was staying at, Mark Zuckerberg paused for a full eight seconds, chuckled, grimaced, and ultimately demurred

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2018, 8:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 8:31am

Of the hundreds of questions thrown at Mark Zuckerberg by US lawmakers, none appeared to flummox the Facebook founder more than a pointed query about where he slept the previous evening.

“Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” Senator Dick Durbin asked during an intense and closely-watched hearing about online digital privacy, and Facebook’s role in what happens to personal information once users join the platform.

Zuckerberg paused for a full eight seconds, chuckled, grimaced, and ultimately demurred.

“Um, uh, no,” he said.

And “if you’ve messaged anybody this week would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” the Illinois Democrat persisted.

Again, a similar unwillingness to answer.

Perhaps more than any other senator during five hours of questioning, Durbin’s everyman tactic put a finger on the crux of the issue surrounding Facebook’s failure to maintain control of the private information of tens of millions of users, amid a scandal over the gathering of personal data used to target political advertising and messaging during the 2016 presidential race.

“I think that might be what this is all about,” said Durbin, 40 years Zuckerberg’s senior. 

“Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you give away in modern America in the name of connecting people around the world.”

Zuckerberg, who at 33 runs a multibillion-dollar company with some two billion users, accepted personal responsibility for the leak of users’ data and vowed that the company will do better in guarding such information.

He also conceded Durbin’s point was a fair one. “I think everyone should have control over how their information is used,” Zuckerberg said.

But here’s what Zuckerberg wanted 44 senators to know about the scandal in which Cambridge Analytica used the massive social platform to access 87 million users: he made mistakes. Facebook’s mission is to “help people connect”.

And no, he’s not resigning.

And if his notes were any indication, Zuckerberg expected senators to ask whether he’d resign. 

His notes acknowledged he’d made mistakes and say the company was facing a “big challenge” but would solve this one too.

Zuckerberg’s notes were briefly visible to an Associated Press photographer during a hearing Tuesday in which he answered questions about privacy, election interference and other issues.

Here’s a rundown of what was in them:

GDPR response. While Zuckerberg did talk about the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation rules, which go into effect next month, the notes instructed Zuckerberg not to suggest the company is covered. “Don’t say we already do what GDPR requires,” the notes state in comments set in bold.

China threat. The notes gave Zuckerberg a convenient response to any questions about whether Facebook ought to be broken up. “US tech companies key asset for America; break up strengthens Chinese companies,” the notes say.

The ad market is huge. The notes also offered Zuckerberg a way to combat any suggestions that Facebook is the only place to go for companies that want to reach lots of people through advertising. “Advertisers have choices too - US$650 billion market, we have 6 per cent,” the notes say.

What about Apple? The notes additionally contained references to Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook -presumably to be used in case senators ask about Cook’s recent comments that presumably concerned Facebook. “Lots of stories about apps misusing Apple data, never seen Apple notify people,” Zuckerberg’s notes say.

The emergency go-to statement. There was also a go-to statement that Zuckerberg could use in the event of especially strong criticism of Facebook. “If attacked: Respectfully, I reject that. Not who we are,” the notes say.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, CNBC