Outgoing Facebook security chief Alex Stamos called for major privacy changes

25 Jul 2018

Facebook on a mobile device. Image: AngieYeoh/Shutterstock

Alex Stamos wrote a note to staff in March, urging them to rethink the site’s approach to privacy in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The after-effects of the Cambridge Analytica furore are still being felt by Facebook.

In recent days, a memo from outgoing chief security officer Alex Stamos following the March scandal was obtained by BuzzFeed News. Within it, he was brutally honest about the changes needed at the company.

More transparency needed at Facebook

The memo, titled ‘A Difficult Week’, saw Stamos advocate for major transformations at Facebook, particularly in terms of data protection. He wrote: “We need to deprioritise short-term growth and revenue, and to explain to Wall Street why that is OK. We need to be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues. And we need to be open, honest and transparent about our challenges and what we are doing to fix them.”

The note circulated among Facebook staff six days after the Cambridge Analytica story was broken by The Observer and The New York Times. Shortly thereafter, Stamos confirmed he would be leaving the company by August. His exit from the company had been in the works for some time prior to revelations from whistleblower Christopher Wylie.

Stamos also accepted criticism for Facebook’s methods of dealing with security during the US election of 2016, saying: “I was the chief security officer during the 2016 election season, and I deserve as much blame (or more) as any other exec at the company.”

An uphill battle

Stamos noted that Facebook was facing an uphill battle in terms of regaining the trust of its users and responding to the criticism of detractors.

According to the company, major efforts are being made to mitigate the risk of interference and manipulation of public opinion on its platform. Reuters reported that officials confirmed they would be looking out for such instances on the network ahead of the mid-term elections in the US later in 2018.

The company has also launched more tools to help identify and classify political advertisements and fact-check content. However, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was recently criticised for citing Holocaust denials as an example of an untrue statement that would not be taken down from the platform if it was posted in a sincere manner.

Facebook’s news feed manager, Tessa Lyons, said that the company was making headway in refining how fact-checkers label false information, adding that posts from sites that distribute large amounts of so-called ‘fake news’ would be ranked lower than other more trustworthy outlets.

Facebook on a mobile device. Image: AngieYeoh/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects