Now that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has spoken publicly about the firm’s data controversy, the chief question remains whether the changes he outlined will be enough to restore the public’s trust in the social media giant.
In a series of media interviews this week, Zuckerberg went into full damage control mode about how the company handled user data when it discovered in 2015 that 50 million users’ data had been shared with Cambridge Analytica, a consultancy that advises political campaigns, thus breaking the company’s rules.
He apologized. He called the recent controversy “a major breach of trust.”
Congressional leaders have already called on Zuckerberg to testify in Congress — something that Zuckerberg appeared willing to do, according to the interviews, if he was “the right person.”
Some Facebook critics argue the firm, which relies on advertising revenue, isn’t able or willing to curtail practices that may improve users’ privacy but potentially hurt its bottom line. The company needs some sort of regulatory oversight, they say, or new laws about users’ personal data.
But for now, Zuckerberg outlined a series of measures that would limit the amount of data collected on users, something that many privacy advocates have argued for. The firm’s revenue model, he said, is here to stay.
“I don’t think the ad model is going to go away because I think fundamentally, it’s important to have a service like this that everyone in the world can use, and the only way to do that is to have it be very cheap or free,” Zuckerberg told the New York Times.
Going back to 2014
Facebook plans to turn the clock back to 2014, before it changed its rules stopping a developers’ ability to tap into users’ friends’ data.
With the help of forensic auditors, the company plans to investigate all “large apps” — “thousands,” by Zuckerberg’s estimate, that scooped up data then.
This includes users whose data was gathered by a researcher and given to Cambridge Analytica. Facebook plans to inform affected users. Cambridge Analytica has denied that it improperly used user data.
If a developer doesn’t want to comply with Facebook’s audit, Facebook will ban it from the social network, Zuckerberg said.
“Even if you solve the problem going forward, there’s still this issue of: Are there other Cambridge Analyticas out there,” Zuckerberg told the Times. “We also need to make sure we get that under control.”
Remove access to data
In addition, the company plans to remove a developer’s access to a person’s data if someone hasn’t used the developer’s app in three months. And the company plans to reduce the amount of information collected when users sign in.
Finally, the company says it plans to make it easier to see who has access to their data and to revoke permissions. The moves are intended to curtail what critics have long complained about Facebook’s role in enabling the ongoing collection of more data on users than is needed.
Zuckerberg told Recode that Facebook, with more than two billion users, has become so big and important in the lives of many around the world that he doesn’t always feel comfortable making blanket decisions.
“I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California at an office, making content policy decisions for people around the world,” he said. “Things like where is the line on hate speech?”
He has to make the decisions he said, because he runs Facebook.
“But I’d rather not.”