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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg Admits Facebook Screwed Up, Promises to Do Better

Posted by on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 9:31 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

In a statement and interviews with CNN and The New York Times yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, kinda-sorta apologized, and promised to do better.
  • From the NYT: “Although his statement addressing a chorus of criticism fell short of a full-throated apology, Mr. Zuckerberg said that Facebook would contact users whose data had been harvested through a personality quiz app and passed along to the political data firm Cambridge Analytica. ‘We have a responsibility to protect your data,’ Mr. Zuckerberg said Wednesday in a Facebook post, ‘and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.’ Mr. Zuckerberg, 33, was trying to quell the crisis over the disclosure last weekend that Cambridge Analytica had used data that had been improperly obtained from Facebook as the firm worked on behalf of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. ‘Are there other Cambridge Analyticas out there?’ Mr. Zuckerberg said later in an interview with The New York Times. He added, ‘Were there apps which could have gotten access to more information and potentially sold it without us knowing or done something that violated people’s trust? We also need to make sure we get that under control.’”
  • Zuck told CNN that he thought federal regulation might be appropriate: “In the interview with CNN, Mark Zuckerberg suggested the question was not whether Facebook should be regulated so much as how best to do it. ‘I’m not sure we shouldn't be regulated,’ Zuckerberg said. ‘There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see.’” He also said he was “sure” entities were trying to use his platform to meddle in the 2018 elections: “I’m sure someone's trying, right?" Zuckerberg said. "I'm sure that there's v2, version two, of whatever the Russian effort was in 2016, I'm sure they're working on that. And there are going to be some new tactics that we need to make sure that we observe and get in front of.” And he admitted that Facebook really was ready to deal with Russia: “Asked if the company had ‘done a good enough job,’ Zuckerberg said, ‘What's clear is that in 2016 we were not as on top of a number of issues as we should have, whether it was Russian interference or fake news.… The reality here is that this isn't rocket science, I mean there's a lot of hard work that we need to do to make it harder for nation-states like Russia to do election interference, to make it so that trolls and other folks can't spread fake news.’”
  • Back to the NYT with a critical point: “Independent researchers who have used data from Facebook said that Mr. Zuckerberg’s statement did not acknowledge how the gathering of user data was fundamental to the company’s operations. ‘He avoided the big issue, which is that for many years, Facebook was basically giving away user data like it was handing out candy,’ said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. ‘There is no question that handing out that data made Facebook the success it is as a company. This has to be recognized as part of their business model and not just a one-off problem.’”

WHAT IT MEANS: There’s a pretty good rule of thumb on the internet: if you’re not paying for it, you’re being sold. Big web companies make money from advertising, sure, but they also make billions selling your information to third parties; that’s how they can afford to keep their platforms free to use while still keeping shareholders happy. You, the reader, are the commodity. In that sense, this wide-open social media world and what we’ve traditionally thought of as privacy are incompatible. But this incompatibility has allowed shady actors like Cambridge Analytica to do shady things at the behest of shady clients, and Facebook quite evidently doesn’t have the tools in place to stop them. Facebook’s share prices are falling on the news, and #DeleteFacebook is trending on Twitter, though who knows if that’ll stick. For now, this is the biggest crisis Facebook has seen. But it’s also a crisis for democracy. Facebook holds so much sway over the information we consume that it enables Russian operatives and Cambridge Analytica types to manipulate wide swaths of the public. An entity that big cries out for regulation.

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