Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal: Key takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg's statement

Almost a week after the exposé, the Facebook CEO has broken his silence on the matter. Here's what he said, and left unsaid.

 |  5-minute read |   22-03-2018
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Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has finally broken his silence on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Exposed last week by The New York Times and The Observer, the scandal is the biggest data breach that Facebook has had to deal with since its inception back in 2004. 

The explosive exposé alleges that the social media giant's negligence led to British voter profiling firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvesting the personal data of 50 million Facebook users which it later used to influence the results of the 2016 US presidential elections and changing public opinion at the time of UK's Brexit referendum. 

In a statement, shared with Facebook's over 2 billion strong community, Zuckerberg expressed his views on the issue. Here are key takeaways from the statement: 

Falls short of an apology

First, and foremost, Zuckerberg in his finely crafted statement addresses the matter at hand but fell short of issuing an apology. As opposed to his exclusive TV interview to CNN, one that was meant for the American audience, Zuckerberg in his Facebook post shied away from using the word "sorry" or apologising in any other way for the massive data breach that happened under Facebook's watch. 

Suffice it to say, that for the CEO of a social media giant, caught with its pants down, still trying to wriggle his way out of this embarrassing situation without so much as an apology is a move that will not go down well with most of its users. 

Taking responsibility

But even as Zuckerberg steered clear of issuing an apology, what he didn't do, was not take responsibility for the mess that Facebook finds itself in. In his Facebook post, and subsequent interviews to CNN, Recode, and The New York Times, Facebook's CEO accepted responsibility for the "breach of trust."

He said, "We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you... 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.

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."

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Explainer

Though much of this information is already in the open and covered by the media, Zuckerberg used the post as an opportunity to explain the scandal from Facebook's perspective and by giving a timeline of the events. An obvious attempt to gain control over the narrative, Zuckerberg started the post by writing, "I want to share an update on the Cambridge Analytica situation – including the steps we've already taken and our next steps to address this important issue."

He went on to add, "In 2007, we launched the Facebook Platform with the vision that more apps should be social... To do this, we enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them.

In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who shared their data as well as some of 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. In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica.

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."

Breach of trust and not 'data breach'

Another thing clear from the statement is that Facebook is sticking to its guns and still not accepting that it was a data breach. In the Facebook post, Zuckerberg again referred to this as a case of "breach of trust" and not data breach. 

"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."

However, the fact remains, that despite Zuckerberg and Facebook's claims, this remains a data breach, and arguably the biggest in Facebook's history. 

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What it did, and what's being done now

The statement also seeks to inform users of the steps Facebook had taken in the past to prevent such incidents. "In this case, we already took the most important steps a few years ago in 2014 to prevent bad actors from accessing people's information in this way."

But more importantly, Zuckerberg spoke about the steps the company is taking right now to not just douse the Cambridge Analytica fire, but also prevent similar incidents from taking place in the future. Zuckerberg's post outlined three broad points under which this will be done: 

"First, we will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit. And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps. That includes people whose data Kogan misused here as well.

Second, we will restrict developers' data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse. For example, we will remove developers' access to your data if you haven't used their app in three months... Third, in the next month, we will show everyone a tool at the top of your News Feed with the apps you've used and an easy way to revoke those apps' permissions to your data."

What it did not say

Despite answering a number of important questions, Zuckerberg's close to 1,000-word statement also conveniently ignored some major concerns. Concers that he happily addressed while speaking to the American media, but ignored while addressing the larger Facebook community that spans the globe. 

For example, Zuckerberg gave no explanation over the allegations of cover-up in the scandal. He didn't explain why Facebook did not inform why it tried to keep the matter under wraps and didn't notify its users about the breach when it learned of it in 2015.

Or for that matter why it did not take legal action against Cambridge Analytica after it found that the firm had gotten its hands on personal data of Facebook users. There was also no mention of why Cambridge Analytica was allowed to keep using Facebook's platform to influence users even after the social media giant had been informed of the data breach. 

Also read: Why are liberals mad at Ram Guha?

Writer

Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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