Zuckerberg Says People Don't Understand How Facebook Uses Their Data Because Privacy Policies Are Hard

The Facebook CEO and billionaire told members of Congress that ‘long privacy policies are very confusing.’
Image: Screengrab/US Senate

If you don’t know exactly what data Facebook collects, or how it’s used, that’s because you just didn’t read and understand the site’s privacy policy, according to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of the social media platform.

Zuckerberg appeared before a joint Senate committee hearing Tuesday to answer questions

about Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and allegedly used the Facebook data of 87 million people collected by an academic researcher.


Sitting before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Zuckerberg fielded questions about data privacy and what the company was doing differently going forward. He said that being transparent with users on what data is collected, and how it’s used, is important, but something that everyone in the tech world has struggled to figure out how to do effectively.

“This gets into an issue that we and others in the tech industry have found challenging which is that long privacy policies are very confusing,” Zuckerberg said. “One of the things we’ve struggled with over time is to make things as simple as possible so people can understand it. We don’t expect that most people will want to go through and read a full legal document.”

It’s true that most internet users don’t read privacy policies, and that length is often part of the problem—studies have shown the average internet user would need to take a month off of work every year to read through the privacy policies of every website they use. But it’s also true that the ways Facebook and other tech companies collect and use our data is often complex, and having dense legalese to explain it to users is more for protecting the company than actually informing users. To build real transparency, informing users of exactly what’s happening in plain language would go a lot further than a slightly shorter privacy policy.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced a number of steps it was taking to try to increase transparency with users while also protecting data. The company is partnering with researchers to identify major research questions that can be explored with access to Facebook’s data, which it is offering up. It also announced that advertising on the site will become more transparent, with data on who sees which ads, and who pays for them, available to users. On Tuesday, Facebook also announced a $40,000 fund to encourage whistleblowers to flag advertising abuse on the platform.

Facebook is currently under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for a potential violation of the social media site’s stated privacy policy due to its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Zuckerberg will testify again Wednesday, this time in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.