Zuckerberg Admits Mistakes As Data Harvesting Rises To 87 Million

Facebook has admitted that more people than first thought have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal.

It was originally reported by a whistle-blower that the data analytics firm had improperly gained access to data on 50 million Facebook users. But now Facebook estimates that 87 million people, mostly in the US, have been impacted.

And CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a Q&A session with reporters took the blame and admitted that he had made mistakes, and that his firm had not done enough to safeguard people’s data.

Fake news

Zuckerberg also said that he was still the right person to lead the company he founded, and he accepted that Russia had been using the platform inappropriately, hence the decision yesterday to delete over a hundred accounts linked to a Russian news farm (Internet Research Agency – IRA).

The BBC asked Zuckerberg why he had turned down a chance to speak to British MPs, but the Facebook boss pointed out he is going to testify before the US Congress, and will be sending his top executives for foreign enquiries.

And he admitted he had been wrong to dismiss the idea that fake news could influence the 2016 presidential election.

“People will analyse the actual impact of this for a long time to come, but what I think was clear at this point is that it was too flippant,” said Zuckerberg. “I should have never referred to it as crazy. This is clearly a problem that requires careful work, and since then we’ve done a lot to fight the spread of disinformation on Facebook from working with fact checkers to making it so that we’re trying to promote and work with broadly trusted news sources.”

He also pointed out that it was not Facebook that had reported 50 million people been affected by the data harvesting scandal.

GDPR Pledge

“And as you said, we didn’t put out the 50 million number,” said Zuckerberg. “That came from other parties… What we did was basically constructed the maximum possible number of friends lists that everyone could have had over the time, and assumed that Kogan queried each person at the time when they had the maximum number of connections that would’ve been available to them. That’s where we came up with this 87 million number.”

Zuckerberg also pointed out that he thinks that regulations like the GDPR are very positive.

“We intend to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe,” he said. “Is it going to be exactly the same format? Probably not.”

“We need to figure out what makes sense in different markets with the different laws and different places,” he said. “But – let me repeat this – we’ll make all controls and settings the same everywhere, not just in Europe.”

Facebook leadership

The Financial Times asked Zuckerberg that this issue had raised a lot of corporate governance issues at Facebook, and has the board discussed whether he should step down as chairman?

“Not that I’m aware of,” replied Zuckerberg.

NBC then asked him in light of the fact that he had clearly made mistakes, whether he was the best person to led Facebook going forward.

“Yes,” said Zuckerberg. “I think life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward. “The reality of a lot of this is that when you are building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things that you mess up.”

“And if we had gotten this right, we would have messed something else up,” he added. “I don’t think anyone is going to be perfect, but I think what people should hold us accountable for is learning from the mistakes and continually doing better and continuing to evolve what our view of our responsibility is — and, at the end of the day, whether we’re building things that people like and that make their lives better.”

Zuckerberg also said that no one has been fired at Facebook as a result of the scandal, nor is he intending to.

#deletefacebook move

Zuckerberg was also questioned as to whether the #deletefacebook move and advertisers pulling their campaigns off the platform had had an impact.

“I don’t think there has been any meaningful impact we’ve observed,” said Zuckerberg. “But, look, it’s not good. I don’t want anyone to be unhappy with our services or what we do as a company. So, even if we can’t really measure a change and the usage of a product, or the business or anything like that, it still speaks to people feeling like this is a massive breach of trust and that we have a lot of work to do to repair that.”

Facebook is facing a number of official investigations around the world as a result of the data harvesting scandal.

It has severed its partnership with a number of large data brokers, which help advertisers deliver targetted adverts on the social network.

It has also tweaked its privacy controls to make it easier to safeguard privacy.

How much do you know about privacy? Try our quiz!

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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