Facebook’s Zuckerberg finally speaks on Cambridge Analytica controversy

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In the wake of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg embarked on a rare media mini-blitz in an attempt to take some of the public and political pressure off the social network.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg attends the eG8 forum in Paris, May 25, 2011. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

But it’s far from clear whether he’s won over U.S. and European authorities, much less the broader public whose status updates provide Facebook with an endless stream of data it uses to sell targeted ads.

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg sat for a televised interview on CNN and then gave another to the publication Wired. He addressed reports that Cambridge Analytica purloined the data of more than 50 million Facebook users in order to sway elections. The Trump campaign paid the firm $6 million during the 2016 election, although it has since distanced itself from Cambridge.

Zuckerberg apologized for a “major breach of trust,” admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect users following Cambridge’s data grab.

I am really sorry that happened,” Zuckerberg said on CNN. Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data, he added, noting that if it fails, “we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.”

His apology on CNN came a few hours after he acknowledged his company’s mistakes in a Facebook post but stopped short of saying he was sorry.

Both 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 as well as the 2013 and 2107 presidential campaigns of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenya’s ruling Jubilee party said on Tuesday it had paid for “branding” in the 2017 presidential election from SCL, affiliate of consultancy Cambridge Analytica but party leaders would not elaborate on the precise nature of the work done by SCL or Cambridge Analytica in Kenya.

Facebook shares have dropped some 8 percent, lopping about $46 billion off the company’s market value, since the revelations were first published.

Zuckerberg also says he would be “happy” to testify before Congress about the data breach — but only if it was “the right thing to do.” Zuckerberg went on to note that many other Facebook officials might be more appropriate witnesses depending on what Congress wanted to know.

At another point, the Facebook chief seemed to favor regulation for Facebook and other internet giants. At least, that is, the “right” kind of rules, such as ones requiring 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.

“They’ll fight tooth and nail to fight being regulated,” said Timothy Carone, a Notre Dame business professor. “In six months we’ll be having the same conversations, and it’s just going to get worse going into the election.”

Even Facebook’s plan to let users know about data leaks may put the onus on users to educate themselves. Zuckerberg said Facebook will “build a tool” that lets users see if their information had been impacted by the Cambridge leak, suggesting that the company won’t be notifying people automatically. Facebook took this kind of approach in the case of Russian election meddling, in contrast to Twitter, which notified users who had been exposed to Russian propaganda on its network.

In what has become one of the worst backlashes Facebook has ever seen, politicians in the U.S. and Britain have called on Zuckerberg to explain Facebook’s data practices in detail. State attorneys general in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey have opened investigations into the Cambridge mess. And some have rallied to a movement that urges people to delete their Facebook accounts entirely.

 

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