Facebook CEO says he could testify before lawmakers, suggests openness to regulation
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seen here in an April 2017 photo, made his first public comments Wednesday amid a scandal over a political analytics firm getting the data of millions of Facebook users. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)‘This Wild West era’s got to end’: Facebook breach energizes U.K. lawmakers
His mea culpa on cable television came a few hours after he acknowledged his company’s mistakes in a Facebook post, but without saying he was sorry.
Zuckerberg and Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, had been quiet since news broke Friday that Cambridge may have used data improperly obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections. Cambridge’s clients included Donald Trump’s general-election campaign.
Zuckerberg equivocates in CNN interview
Facebook shares have dropped some eight per cent, lopping about $46 billion US off the company’s market value, since the revelations were first published. Zuckerberg told the New York Times in an interview published on Wednesday he had not seen a “meaningful number of people” deleting their accounts over the scandal.
In the CNN interview, Zuckerberg offered equivocal and carefully hedged answers to two other questions. He said, for instance, that he would be “happy” to testify before Congress, but only if it was “the right thing to do.” He went on to note that many other Facebook officials might be more appropriate witnesses depending on what Congress wanted to know.
Similarly, the Facebook chief seemed at one point to favour regulation for Facebook and other internet giants — at least the “right” kind of rules, he said, such as ones that require online political ads to disclose who paid for them. In almost the next breath, however, Zuckerberg steered clear of endorsing a bill that would write such rules into federal law, and instead talked up Facebook’s own voluntary efforts on that front.
Even before the scandal broke, Facebook has already taken the most important steps to prevent a recurrence, Zuckerberg said. For example, in 2014, it reduced access outside apps had to user data. However, some of the measures didn’t take effect until a year later, allowing Cambridge to access the data in the intervening months.
Facebook promises changes
Zuckerberg acknowledged that there is more to do. He told the website Recode that fixes to protect users’ data would cost “many millions of dollars.”
In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg said it will ban developers who don’t agree to an audit. An app’s developer will no longer have access to data from people who haven’t used that app in three months. Data will also be generally limited to user names, profile photos and email, unless the developer signs a contract with Facebook and gets user approval.
In this photo from August 2015, Facebook elections signs stand in the media area in Cleveland before the first Republican presidential debate. The tech company partnered with Fox News to host the primary debate.(John Minchillo/Associated Press)
In a separate post, Facebook said it will inform people whose data was misused by apps. Facebook first learned of this breach of privacy more than two years ago, but hadn’t mentioned it publicly until Friday.
The company said it was “building a way” for people to know if their data was accessed by “This Is Your Digital Life,” the psychological-profiling quiz app that researcher Aleksandr Kogan created and paid about 270,000 people to take part in. Cambridge Analytica later obtained information from the app for about 50 million Facebook users, as the app also vacuumed up data on people’s friends — including those who never downloaded the app or gave explicit consent.
‘I just didn’t ask enough questions’
Canadian Chris Wylie, a Cambridge co-founder who left in 2014, has said one of the firm’s goals was to influence people’s perceptions by injecting content, some misleading or false, all around them. It’s not clear whether Facebook would be able to tell users whether they had seen such content.
Chris Wylie, a Canadian data scientist, was quoted as saying the company used the data to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)
Cambridge has shifted the blame to Kogan, which the firm described as a contractor. Kogan described himself as a scapegoat.
Kogan, a psychology researcher at Cambridge University, told the BBC that both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have tried to place the blame on him, even though the firm ensured him that everything he did was legal.
“One of the great mistakes I did here was I just didn’t ask enough questions,” he said. “I had never done a commercial project. I didn’t really have any reason to doubt their sincerity. That’s certainly something I strongly regret now.”
‘This is just the beginning’
He said the firm paid some $800,000 for the work, but it went to participants in the survey.
“My motivation was to get a dataset I could do research on,” he said. “I have never profited from this in any way personally.”
Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating.
David Carroll, a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York who sued Cambridge Analytica in the U.K., said he was not satisfied with Zuckerberg’s response, but acknowledged that “this is just the beginning.”
Private messages left Facebook’s servers
He said it was “insane” that Facebook had yet to take legal action against Cambridge parent SCL Group over the inappropriate data use. Carroll himself sued Cambridge Friday to recover data on him that the firm had obtained.
Sandy Parakilas, who worked in data protection for Facebook in 2011 and 2012, told a U.K. parliamentary committee Wednesday that the company was vigilant about its network security but lax when it came to protecting users’ data.
He said personal data including email addresses and in some cases private messages was allowed to leave Facebook servers with no real controls on how the data was used after that.
“The real challenge here is that Facebook was allowing developers to access the data of people who hadn’t explicitly authorized that,” he said, adding that the company had “lost sight” of what developers did with the data.Report Typo or Error|Send Feedback‘This Wild West era’s got to end’: Facebook breach energizes U.K. lawmakers