Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After more than 10 hours of grilling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Congress is no closer to regulating the platform's privacy practices than it was when the hearings started.

The bottom line: It's clear that lawmakers haven't coalesced around a regulatory end-goal, even though the threat remains. As House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden put it after the hearing, "I don’t want to rush into legislation minutes after having the first hearing of this magnitude, but certainly if they can’t clean up their act we’ll clean it up for them.”

Regulation remains a long shot, even if we're hearing more about it. There were plenty of regulatory skeptics among Republicans at the hearings — and no single proposal emerged from the sessions as the go-to way to regulate Facebook.

  • Some Democrats, however, are making tougher privacy enforcement a big part of their message. "Well, the Republicans aren't going to address it," said Rep. Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "But I think the Democrats were clear that we want comprehensive legislation."

The big themes:

  • Confusion over the digital ads ecosystem: It was clear from the questions that few lawmakers truly understand how data is used and shared between platforms, advertisers, data brokers and app developers. Several suggested that Facebook provides users' personal data directly to advertisers, and off-point algorithm questions resulted in blank stares and stammers from a baffled Zuckerberg.
  • Conservative censorship: Republicans zeroed in on Facebook's power to censor conservative voices, repeatedly bringing up the platform's takedown of pro-Trump video duo Diamond and Silk and asking if Facebook has controls against internal bias. Zuckerberg said the company has made mistakes in reviewing content, but doesn't think it censors political speech. (Axios' Sara Fischer has more here.)
  • Artificial intelligence: Zuckerberg repeatedly said Facebook is developing AI-driven systems to identify fake news and inappropriate content, in addition to increasing its human review team. But no lawmakers pressed him on why it's not a silver-bullet solution to rooting out nefarious content or preventing other types of bias in the review process.
  • Californians were aggressive: Lawmakers representing Facebook's home state — like Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Anna Eshoo — had more aggressive and pointed lines of questioning than most of their colleagues, as if they were trying to avoid any appearance that they were giving Zuckerberg a free pass.
  • The trust gap: Even though regulation is not imminent, the lawmakers reminded Zuckerberg that the reason he was sitting in front of them is because they don't trust him or Facebook to adequately protect consumers' privacy. That's why Zuckerberg kept apologizing for the "breach of trust" and said the company would be more responsible.

Zuckerberg had a better-than-expected performance. He confidently answered questions, patiently explained the same thing over and over, and was deferential yet decisive with critics. "I felt like he was very forthcoming," said Walden minutes after Zuckerberg's House appearance ended.

Yes, but: Many expected him to get smoked by Congress, so expectations were somewhat low going into the hearings. That allowed him to get solid reviews over his hours in the hot seat.

What's next: Walden indicated that he's interested in bringing other tech CEOs to testify on Capitol Hill.

Go deeper

What to expect from the final debate of the 2020 election

Trump and Biden at the first debate. Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Image

Watch for President Trump to address Joe Biden as “the big guy” or “the chairman” at tonight's debate as a way of dramatizing the Hunter Biden emails. Hunter's former business partner Tony Bobulinski is expected to be a Trump debate guest.

The big picture: Trump's advisers universally view the first debate as a catastrophe — evidenced by a sharp plunge in Trump’s public and (more convincingly for them) private polling immediately following the debate.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Chris Christie: Wear a mask "or you may regret it — as I did" — Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted relief bill.
  2. Business: New state unemployment filings fall.
  3. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  4. Health: FDA approves Gilead's remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment How the pandemic might endMany U.S. deaths were avoidable.
  5. Education: Boston and Chicago send students back home for online learning.
  6. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

FBI: Russian hacking group stole data after targeting local governments

FBI Headquarters. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Energetic Bear, a Russian state-sponsored hacking group, has stolen data from two servers after targeting state and federal government networks in the U.S. since at least September, the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said on Thursday.

Driving the news: Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system.