Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed recent revelations that a data research firm inappropriately accessed and harvested personal data on 50 million Facebook users in the run up to the 2016 presidential election today.
The Facebook CEO denied culpability for the breach but acknowledged that ultimately, the company was responsible for the personal information users entrust it with.
“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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on the site.
Revelations over the last week have shown that Cambridge Analytica harvested the user data of 50 million users in order to build a data operation that profiled U.S. voters in order to target them with political messaging and ultimately, attempt to sway their votes.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons,” former Cambridge employee Christopher Wylie said. “That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Zuckerberg contends that when the company first became aware of the breach in 2015, they banned an app developed in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica by a Cambridge University academic named Aleksandr Kogan, and asked Kogan and Cambridge Analytica to certify they deleted all of the improperly obtained data.
“That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back,” Wylie said of Facebook’s requests.
Zuckerberg admits the company could have handled it better. “Well, I don’t know about you but I’m used to, when people legally certify that they’re going to do something, that they do it,” Zuckerberg said in response to a question from CNN’s Laurie Segall on whether the company should have been more proactive about the situation, tonight. “But I think this was clearly a mistake in retrospect,” he said.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for hearings into interference efforts in the 2016 election and Facebook’s specific role in those efforts. The tech company has announced it will meet with staff from the House and Senate Intelligence committees, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee, as well as the House and Senate Judiciary committees, this week to discuss Cambridge and the 2016 election.
Many are wondering whether there hasn’t been permanent damage done to Facebook’s brand because of the way they handled the episode and their decision to disclose the breach only after multiple media outlets reported it more than two years later. Something Zuckerberg alluded to in his statement.
“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” he wrote. “I know it takes longer to fix all these issues than we’d like, but I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.”