Marks Zuckerberg has admitted Facebook failed to protect user data and prevent manipulation of its platform. Some 87 million users had their personal information harvested for political purposes by Cambridge Analytica.
On the eve of his first congressional hearing, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the social network did not do enough to prevent the misuse of user data, placing the blame squarely on himself.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm …” Zuckerberg said in written testimony released by the US House Energy and Commerce Committee. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
The 33-year-old Facebook chief’s testimony was released ahead of the first of two scheduled appearances before congressional committees on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The company is facing the worst privacy crisis in its 14-year history after whistleblowers revealed that the personal information of tens of millions users, mainly in the US, was obtained by political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica. Facebook itself admitted that the number of affected users is estimated to be around 87 million.
London-based Cambridge Analytica, which counts US President Donald Trump’s election campaign among its past clients, has disputed the estimated number of affected users.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” Zuckerberg’s testimony continued. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
Facebook promises to take necessary steps
Zuckerberg also swore he would take the necessary steps to ensure user data would never again be ill-gotten and misused by an outside party. Other applications, he also noted, were being investigated for their handling of data.
“We’re in the process of investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information before we locked down our platform in 2014,” he said, referring to the company’s decision then to restrict app developer access to only the individual user’s data, rather than that of all their contacts, as well.
“If we detect suspicious activity, we’ll do a full forensic audit. And if we find that someone is improperly using data, we’ll ban them and tell everyone affected.”
Over the weekend, Facebook announced that it had suspended AggregateIQ (AIQ), a Canada-based data-mining firm used by the official pro-Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave. Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie told a UK parliamentary committee that AIQ and Cambridge Analytica were effectively one-and-the-same company.
Also suspended was US-based data analysis firm Cubeyou, following reports it had harvested user data from psychological testing apps for commercial purposes.
Tackling election meddling
Zuckerberg also announced that Facebook would take the necessary steps to prevent the social network being used for the type of online information warfare US authorities have accused Russia of pursuing.
The 33-year-old said the social network would be launching an independent research commission tasked with looking into the effects of social media on elections and democracy. According to Zuckerberg, the committee would work with US foundations and a committee of academic experts to come up with research topics and select independent researchers to study them.
Last week, Facebook backed proposed legislation known as the “Honest Ads Act,” which would require social network sites to disclose the identities of political ad campaign buyers, as well as implement a verification process for people purchasing so-called “issue” ads, which could exploit divisive subjects such as gun laws or racism.
dm/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)