Breaking more than four days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted mistakes and outlined steps to secure user data in light of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm.
Zuckerberg said today that Facebook has a “responsibility” to secure its users’ data and if it fails, “we don’t deserve to serve you.”
Zuckerberg and Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, have been quiet since news broke on Friday that Cambridge Analytica may have utilized data improperly got from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections.
Facebook has already taken the most important steps to prevent such a situation from happening again, 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, permitting Cambridge to access the data in the intervening months.
Zuckerberg acknowledges that there is more the company needs to do.
In a Facebook post today, 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 utilized that app in three months. Data will also be generally limited to usernames, profile photos and email, unless the developer signs a contract with Facebook and gets user approval.
Earlier in the day, an academic who developed the app utilized by Cambridge Analytica to harvest data said that he had no idea his work would be used in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Alexandr Kogan, a psychology researcher at Cambridge University, told the BBC that both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have tried to place the blame on him for violating the social media platform’s terms of service, even though Cambridge Analytica ensured him that everything he did was legal.
“My view is that I’m being basically utilized as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” he said. “Honestly, we thought we were acting perfectly appropriately, we thought we were doing something that was really normal.”
Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating the alleged improper use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based political research firm.
Facebook shares have dropped some 9 %, lopping more than $ 50 billion off the company’s market value, since the revelations were first published, raising questions about whether social media sites are violating users’ privacy.
The head of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, was suspended yesterday after Britain’s Channel 4 News broadcast hidden camera footage of him suggesting the company could use young women to catch opposition politicians in compromising positions. Footage also showed Nix bragging about the firm’s essential role in the Trump campaign.
Nix said Cambridge Analytica handled “all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting” for the Trump campaign, and utilized emails with a “self-destruct timer” to make the firm’s role more difficult to trace.
“There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,” he said.
In a statement, Cambridge Analytica’s board said Nix’s comments “do not represent the values or operations of the firm, and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation.”
Facebook itself is drawing criticism from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for its purported failure to protect users’ privacy.