Facebook boss finally breaks radio silence over Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has finally commented on the data-sharing scandal involving his firm and data analytics provider Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerberg used a television interview on Wednesday to publicly apologise for mistakes his company made in how it handled the data belonging to 50 million of its users. He also vowed that the social network would take tougher steps to restrict developers’ access to such information.
It comes after Cambridge Analytica yesterday suspended its CEO Alexander Nix with ‘immediate effect’ after he was caught on camera boasting of dirty tricks to discredit politicians online.
Breach of trust
Mark Zuckerberg made his public apology when he was interviewed by CNN, where he was asked what went wrong.
“So this was a major breach of trust and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Zuckerberg answered. “You know we have a basic responsibility to protect people’s data and if we can’t do that then we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people. So our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
He also used a Facebook post to explain what happened. He began by pointing out that in 2007 Facebook allowed its platform to be utilised by third party apps.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2013 and a Cambridge University researcher (Aleksandr Kogan) created a personality quiz app. This app was installed by around 300,000 people who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data.
“Given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data,” said Zuckerberg, but then pointed out that in 2014, “to prevent abusive apps,” Facebook changed “the entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access.”
“Most importantly, apps like Kogan’s could no longer ask for data about a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorised the app,” he said.
“In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica,” wrote Zuckerberg. “It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.”
“Last week, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified,” said Zuckerberg. “We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to confirm this. We’re also working with regulators as they investigate what happened.”
“This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook,” said Zuckerberg. “But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.”
Kogan, the man who developed the app and who gathered the data, has told the BBC this week that he was being made a scapegoat by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerberg also revealed a number of steps Facebook was now undertaking.
He said the social network planned to conduct an investigation of thousands of apps that have used Facebook’s platform, and will restrict developer access to data, and give members a tool that lets them to disable access to their Facebook data more easily.
Zuckerberg also said he was open to additional government regulation and happy to testify before the US Congress if he was the right person.
Zuckerberg’s damage limitation exercise came after Facebook lost more than $45 billion of its stock market value over the past three days.
And it should be remembered that Mark Zuckerberg himself famously questioned privacy in the digital age, when he said in 2010 that people no longer have an expectation of privacy thanks to increasing uptake of social networking.
That may have been his attitude back then, but now Zuckerberg is under no illusion that people still value and expect to have their privacy and personal data respected.
The data sharing scandal blew up this week for Facebook when Christopher Wylie, a former contractor with the company, alleged Cambridge Analytica had gathered large amounts of data through a personality quiz on Facebook called ‘This is Your Digital Life’.
Wylie claimed that 270,000 people took the quiz, but the data of some 50 million users, mainly in the US, was harvested without their explicit consent via their friend networks.
Cambridge Analytica denied those claims, and said it had deleted the data.
However at the weekend the New York Times and the Observer reported Wylie’s allegations, and said their investigation found evidence that Cambridge Analytica not only used the data, but still possessed most, or all of it.
But then on Monday evening things became a lot worse for the company, after Channel 4 News broadcast the results of its own investigation.
The broadcaster showed secretly recorded conversations with senior Cambridge Analytica executives, in which they boast of their ability to sway elections using digital and political trickery.
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