Mark Zuckerberg speaks out on Cambridge Analytica: ‘We also made mistakes’

22 Mar 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Image: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock

Facebook CEO vows to crack down on platform abuse, promising users it will not happen again.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has finally responded to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, apologising for mistakes that Facebook made with regard to how data on 50m people may have been used to tip important election outcomes.

These include the pivotal 2016 Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as president of the US.

‘I started Facebook and, at the end of the day, I’m responsible for what happens on our platform’

The heart of the matter is how an app created by Dr Aleksandr Kogan was able to access so much data that could be used by groups for nefarious purposes, despite apparent guardrails Facebook had put in place to prevent such abuse.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Zuckerberg said almost a week after the scandal broke.

“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.”

Facebook has promised a root-and-branch review of all apps that had access to large amounts of data. It also vowed to inform all users if their data has been misused, encourage people to manage their apps and turn off all access to unused apps.

Crucially, it will restrict developers’ data access to prevent other kinds of abuse.

The social media giant said it will also reward people who find vulnerabilities.

How Facebook was gamed by Cambridge Analytica

In a post last night (21 March), Zuckerberg gave a timeline of events going back to 2007 when Facebook launched the Facebook Platform with the vision that more apps should be social.

In 2013, Kogan, a University of Cambridge psychology professor, created the This Is Your Digital Life app that was installed by 300,000 people who ended up sharing their data and their friends’ data.

“Given the way our platform worked at the time, this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data,” Zuckerberg admitted.

Facebook made changes in 2014 to prevent abusive apps asking for data about a person’s friends unless the friends had also authorised the app, as well as requiring developers to get permission from Facebook before they could request sensitive data from people.

“In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica,” Zuckerberg recalled. “It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.

“Last week, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified. We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to confirm this. We’re also working with regulators as they investigate what happened.

“This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.”

He said that users will start to see a tool at the top of their news feed that will make it easier to revoke apps’ permissions to access their data.

“I started Facebook and, at the end of the day, I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community. While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past. We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.”

These changes are really only the tip of the iceberg for Zuckerberg and the leadership at Facebook.

Politicians and leaders from across the US, Europe and the UK particularly want to hear from Zuckerberg personally, and expect him to appear publicly in Brussels, Congress in Washington and in Westminster to answer their questions.

Not only that, but US and European data regulators – most notably the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK, which has had Facebook’s own auditors step aside in order to conduct a thorough investigation of Cambridge Analytica’s servers – are on the case.

For some time now, there has been concern about how social media may have been manipulated by Russian agents to influence the outcome of the US elections.

But the latest revelations around Cambridge Analytica suggest that manipulating the masses is now big business.

And the one thing that is at stake? A very important thing called democracy.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Image: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years