Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence on the Cambridge Analytica controversy in an exclusive interview with CNN. During the candid exchange, Zuckerberg addressed the data breach, what the organization knows about it and the steps they’re taking to prevent future mishaps.
He tells Laurie Segall, CNN Senior Technology Correspondent: “If you told me in 2004 when I was getting started with Facebook that a big part of my responsibility today would be to help protect the integrity of elections against interference by other governments, you know, I wouldn’t have really believed that was going to be something that I would have to work on 14 years later.”
“But we’re here now. And we’re going to make sure that we do a good job at it.”
Zuckerberg admitted that his organization knew about a potential data breach back in 2015 when reporters from “The Guardian” revealed they had seen evidence that app developer, Aleksandr Kogan, harvested and subsequently sold user data from Facebook to Cambridge Analytica. Kogan collected the personal data through a voluntary personality quiz app. At that time, Facebook immediately banned Kogan‘s app and asked all developers to provide “formal certification” that they didn’t have or had deleted data that was illegally obtained from the Facebook community – a measure that’s widely regarded as soft and passive. It’s fair to say that Facebook asked thieves if they were telling the truth and they believed them.
It’s estimated that 50 million people were compromised and now, years after the fact, Facebook plans to notify those victims. But, the platform still doesn’t know with certainty where all this data ended up or if there are more Cambridge Analyticas out there yet to be discovered. In fact, when asked if he thought there were any bad actors on Facebook currently trying to meddle with U.S. midterm elections, he replied: “I’m sure someone’s trying, right?” He explained that there’s likely a version two of the Russian effort underway and the platform is watching closely to get out in front of it but anticipation isn’t enough. It would better serve Facebook and the people who use it if the platform acts more swiftly than it did previously.
What did Cambridge Analytica actually do with the data?
Zuckerberg described the malfeasance as indirect, stating: “Actually most of what they did was not directly, as far as we can tell from the data that we’ve seen. It was not directly about the election but was more about just dividing people.”
They used fake accounts to create special interests groups and sow division. For example, they’d run a group that’s pro immigration reform and a group that’s against immigration reform to pit people against each other. The CEO admitted that the platform can and should do a better job of using A.I. tools to scan and track this type of activity.
What, exactly, has Facebook done in response to this?
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook now restricts the level of access that developers have to massive amounts of data. The organization is also investigating every app that had access to tons of data prior to the platform being locked down. If improprieties are discovered during an investigation, a full forensic audit will be conducted.
Will justice be served?
Mark Zuckerberg said he’d be happy to testify if it’s the right thing to do. He noted that Facebook testifies before Congress regularly, on a number of topics and the goal is to give Congress all the information it needs to proceed. It’s not yet clear what punitive and/or criminal consequences there could be for Akeksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica.
Sorry, not sorry
Zuckerberg opened the interview by offering an apology:
“So this was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened. 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”, he said.
Sadly, Facebook can’t unring this bell, nor can the organization issue any certainty on where the stolen data is or how it’s currently being used. For this to be one of the largest and most egregious data breaches of our time, it’s been quite polarizing. At a time where you’d think people would be outraged and leaving the platform in droves, few people actually are. Most Facebook users are generally aware that something nefarious has happened but they aren’t outraged enough to delete their accounts. Where exactly does this leave us as digital consumers? If sharing, liking and peering into the lives of others by way of the internet trumps the right to privacy, are we still in control or are we all slaves to The ‘Book?