Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, faced Congress after corruption in the social media platform’s privacy had been proven to sway U.S. elections.
Back in March, the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica accessed the Facebook profiles of tens of millions of users without their permission. The firm used an App to gain info from users who gave the App permission to access their accounts. However, by doing this, the firm also got access to the user’s Facebook friends, exponentially increasing the number of people and information gained.
The number of people affected keeps growing and is currently at around 87 million. In addition, some Android users discovered Facebook had accessed their phone call logs and text histories.
“This occurrence raised awareness of the problems of privacy in the era of social media”
Cambridge Analytica had ties with U.S. President Donald Trump’s political campaign, and a former employee of the firm confirmed that the information accessed was used in order to build psychological profiles on a large portion of the U.S. electorate. He also added that Steve Bannon, the co-founder of the firm and Trump adviser “absolutely wanted to use the data for Republican candidates… and alt-right candidates in the United States”.
This occurrence raised awareness of the problems of privacy in the era of social media, especially after Russia allegedly used the service to meddle in U.S. elections as well.
The 33-year-old CEO and co-founder of Facebook spent two days testifying on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 of April, where concerns such as the abuse of social media for spreading propaganda and the protection of both the privacy of users and their personal details, which are often used to fuel Facebook’s lucrative advertising business, were discussed.
Zuckerberg tried to defend his platform by calling it a “positive force in the world”, and admitted not taking seriously the responsibility of its 2.2 billion users was a “big mistake”; “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company, but it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
However, Zuckerberg avoided answering various questions and presumably pretended not to know how the core technology of the social media platform works. For instance, Democratic Congresswoman Anna Eshoo asked “Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?” to which Zuckerberg replied, “I’m not sure what that means.” He furthermore made a statement concerning users’ content and data accession by saying “You can take it down at any time. The information that we collect, you can choose to have us not collect. You can delete any of it, and, of course, you can leave Facebook if you want.”
The vague remarks increased the public’s mistrust towards Zuckerberg and his intentions and begs to question whether the advantages of Facebook are worth the risk of data abuse.
The scandal has obviously had a bad impact on the 14-year-old Facebook, as it has lost users and advertisers and its stock fell by 14%. Further investigations of the privacy issues in the platform are being made by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and various authorities in Europe.