Technology

Zuckerberg admits mistakes over data privacy scandal

Mark Zuckerberg broke more than four days of silence as he posted an update about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect user data in light of a privacy scandal involving a data mining firm.

Mr Zuckerberg said that Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data and if it fails, “we don’t deserve to serve you”.

Mr Zuckerberg and Facebook’s No 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, have been quiet since news broke on Friday that Cambridge Analytica may have used data improperly obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections.

I want to share an update on the Cambridge Analytica situation — including the steps we've already taken and our next…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Facebook has already taken the most important steps to prevent such a situation from happening again, Mr Zuckerberg said.

For example, in 2014, it reduced access outside apps had to user data. However, some of the measures did not take effect until a year later, allowing Cambridge to access the data in the intervening months.

Mr Zuckerberg acknowledges that there is more the company needs to do.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Zuckerberg said it will ban developers who do not agree to an audit.

An app’s developer will no longer have access to data from people who have not used that app in three months.

Data will also be generally limited to user names, profile photos and email, unless the develop signs a contract with Facebook and gets user approval.

Earlier on Wednesday, an academic who developed the app used by Cambridge Analytica to harvest data said that he had no idea his work would be used in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Alexandr Kogan, a psychology researcher at Cambridge University, told the BBC that both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have tried to place the blame on him for violating the social media platform’s terms of service, even though Cambridge Analytica ensured him that everything he did was legal.

“My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” he said.

“Honestly, we thought we were acting perfectly appropriately, we thought we were doing something that was really normal.”

Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating the alleged improper use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based political research firm.

Facebook shares have dropped some 9% since the revelations were first published, raising questions about whether social media sites are violating users’ privacy.

The head of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, was suspended on Tuesday after Channel 4 News broadcast hidden camera footage of him suggesting the company could use young women to catch opposition politicians in compromising positions.

Footage also showed Mr Nix bragging about the firm’s pivotal role in the Trump campaign.

Mr Nix said Cambridge Analytica handled “all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting” for the Trump campaign, and used emails with a “self-destruct timer” to make the firm’s role more difficult to trace.

“There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,” he said.

In a statement, Cambridge Analytica’s board said Mr Nix’s comments “do not represent the values or operations of the firm, and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation”.

Facebook itself is drawing criticism from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for its alleged failure to protect users’ privacy.

Sandy Parakilas, who worked in data protection for Facebook in 2011 and 2012, told a UK parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the company was vigilant about its network security but lax when it came to protecting users’ data.

He said personal data including email addresses and in some cases private messages was allowed to leave Facebook servers with no real controls on how the data was used after that.

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