Facebook is experiencing a PR nightmare after the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit the media five days ago.
On Wednesday, the social media platform’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg has finally publicly addressed, apologized and in an effort to appear transparent, outlined how the company plans to protect its users’ privacy in the future.
“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it,” wrote Zuckerberg in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
He then provided a timeline of events and explained the steps the company took to secure the platform and pledged to make the “community safer for everyone going forward.”
For the last week, hashtags like #WhereZuck and #DeleteFacebook were trending on Twittter. Zuckerberg was criticized for being radio silent during the first five days of the media frenzy that ensued following the scandal.
“Facebook was criticized last week for having its platform exploited by Cambridge Analytica, a digital analytics firm hired by the Trump presidential campaign. According to Facebook, data from about 300,000 users was originally collected by a Cambridge lecturer named Aleksandr Kogan in 2013 for a personality quiz app. But given the way Facebook worked at the time, Kogan was able to access data from “tens of millions” of friends of those users, Zuckerberg said. While Kogan collected the data legitimately, he then violated Facebook’s terms by passing the information to Cambridge Analytica,” writes CNET.
It was then exposed that the social network was aware of the infraction in 2015 and the company hid it from the public. Facebook, instead, demanded that Cambridge Analytica destroy the information immediately. Media reports soon came out that the data had not been deleted when the former data scientist for the firm and whistleblower, Chris Wylie reported this to The Guardian and the New York Times.
Facebook, which has about 2 billion monthly users, is planning to protect users in a few different ways moving forward.
“For Facebook users, if you haven’t used an app in three months, the company will automatically remove its access to your data. When you sign into apps, you’ll also give developers less of your personal information — only your name, email and Facebook profile photo. The company will also start presenting you with a tool at the top of your news feeds that shows what apps you’ve been using so you can more easily manage your data settings,” writes CNET. “In addition, Facebook plans to audit any app it suspects of suspicious behavior. If developers don’t agree to the audit, they’ll be banned from the platform. Developers will also have to sign a contract in order to ask people for access to their data.”
The public, which was already weary of Facebook considering recent events, no longer trusts the social media platform.
Zuckerberg addressed that in a recent interview with the New York Times.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on that, but, you know, it’s not good. I think it’s a clear signal that this is a major trust issue for people, and I understand that. And whether people delete their app over it or just don’t feel good about using Facebook, that’s a big issue that I think we have a responsibility to rectify,” said Zuckerberg.
But he also pointed out that there are other firms that could have done something similar to Cambridge Analytica.
“Are there other Cambridge Analyticas out there?” said Zuckerberg in the interview with the NYT. “Were there apps which could have gotten access to more information and potentially sold it without us knowing or done something that violated people’s trust? We also need to make sure we get that under control.”
Zuckerberg may have apologized and made a series of promises, but independent researchers are still questioning Facebook’s methods and argue this wasn’t just a one-time incident either.
“He avoided the big issue, which is that for many years, Facebook was basically giving away user data like it was handing out candy,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University to the NYT. “There is no question that handing out that data made Facebook the success it is as a company. This has to be recognized as part of their business model and not just a one-off problem.”
Lawmakers have also demanded that Zuckerberg testify before Congress to receive questioning regarding Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica.
Author’s note: This is exactly what Zuckerberg had to say in an attempt to appease the public. But as the researcher Albright points out collecting user data is part of Facebook’s business model. Zuckerberg won’t sacrifice this because he is making money from selling demographic data. I bet that this isn’t the only scandal like this that Facebook has tried to hide.