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When you’re the head of a company as scandal prone as Facebook, it’s perhaps difficult to keep track of all your varying and grotesque missteps.
Even so, Mark Zuckerberg’s claim at Wednesday’s House antitrust hearing that he didn’t remember paying teens to spy on them is truly one for the record books. At issue was Facebook’s late 2018 and early 2019 use of an app to track teen smartphone usage in exchange for a measly $20.
First reported by TechCrunch, the app — dubbed “Facebook Research” — was brought up by Democratic Congressman Henry Johnson of Georgia. After asking about Onavo, a VPN app owned by Facebook that reported on users’ activity and was forced out of the App Store, Congressman Johnson pressed Zuckerberg on his company’s next step.
“After Onavo was booted out of the App Store you turned to other surveillance tools such as Facebook Research app,” began the congressman. “And also isn’t it true, Mr. Zuckerberg, that Facebook paid teenagers to sell their privacy by installing Facebook Research app?”
Again, to be super clear, the congressman was referencing what, as recently as January of 2019, was a decent sized scandal.
“Congressman, I’m not familiar with that,” stammered Zuckerberg, “but I think it’s a general practice to be able to, um, that the companies used, to have different surveys and to understand data from how people are using different products and what their preferences are.”
The idea that Mark Zuckerberg would not remember his company paying teens to siphon up their smartphone data is, frankly, ludicrous. The scandal drew in Senator Mark Warner, and forced Facebook to respond in writing to a series of detailed questions about its practices.
One of Zuckerberg’s lawyers likely reminded the suddenly forgetful CEO of this, as later in the day he took a moment to correct the record.
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“In response to Congressman Johnson’s question before I said that I wasn’t familiar with the Facebook Research app when I wasn’t familiar with that name for it,” he awkwardly backtracked. “But I just want to be clear that i do recall that we used an app for research and it has since been discontinued.”
Glad to hear your memory is suddenly working again, Mark.