Facebook’s Zuckerberg: I started this place, I run it, I’m responsible

In a candid conversation with the press, the CEO acknowledges that millions more profiles than initially reported were passed to Cambridge Analytica. He says it’s all on him.

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On the day Facebook announced that 87 million users had their data compromised in the Cambridge Analytica scandal — up from 50 million — CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he thinks he’s still the right man to run the world’s largest social network.

“Life is learning from mistakes,” Zuckerberg said on a conference call Wednesday with reporters. “At the end of the day, this is my responsibility. I started this place, I run it, I’m responsible.”

The unusual conference call with the press comes as Facebook faces defecting advertisers, legislative ire and unhappy users over its mishandling of people’s data in what has now become known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

It kicked off when Facebook acknowledged that the London-based data analytics firm had improperly received leaked profile information on more than 50 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica then reportedly used that data to help sway elections and political campaigns around the world. The fallout continued Wednesday when Facebook’s CTO Mike Schroepfer said in a blog post that the number of people whose data Cambridge Analytica had was much higher than originally thought.

At its heart, this scandal isn’t just about improper handling of people’s information, or who did what. It’s whether or not Facebook, with 2 billion people using it each month, is trustworthy. It’s about whether this communication platform can be trusted to handle information for one out of every three people on the planet and continue to be the central part of our lives that it’s become.

Zuckerberg made clear he doesn’t plan to step down as CEO, and so far he hasn’t fired anyone due to this scandal. Instead, he described Facebook as trying to come to terms with what had happened. “We’re an idealistic and optimistic company,” he said. “We know now we didn’t do enough to focus on preventing abuse and thinking through how people use these tools to do harm.”

The company, he said, is now facing two central questions: “Can we get our systems under control and second, can we make sure that our systems aren’t used to undermine democracy,” Zuckerberg said

“It’s not enough to give people a voice, we have to make sure that people are not using that voice to spread disinformation,” he added.

And, specifically, he acknowledged that Facebook has “to ensure that everyone in our ecosystem protects people’s information.”

Questions and answers

Facebook’s public woes began last month when the company said it had cut off Cambridge Analytica’s access to its service. But that was only after it realized that The New York Times and Guardian’s Observer publications had learned about the data misuse, which occurred three years ago.

Zuckerberg said, in response to a question from CNET, that the company waited to announce this number until Wednesday because he wanted to get a “full understanding” and “give you the complete picture.” He said Facebook wanted to figure out the maximum number of people who may have been affected by the rogue app Facebook said was created by a lecturer at University of Cambridge to collect profile information of millions of users and then hand them to Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg also reiterated that the company is planning to audit apps and companies that connect with its service. For example, Facebook is adding restrictions to its Facebook Login tool for apps, which allows users to log into various services using their Facebook data. Facebook said all apps that request access to information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups as part of that login process will now need to be approved. Additionally, Facebook said outside apps won’t be able to collect information such as religious or political views, relationship status or education and work history.

People will also no longer be able to search for Facebook profiles by typing phone numbers and email addresses into the social network’s search box. Facebook said it left people vulnerable to having their public profiles collected by bad actors. The company also put more limits on what information developers could gather from a handful of Facebook services, including its Events, Groups and Pages features.

All of Facebook’s efforts to mitigate the damage both to people’s privacy and its own reputation haven’t been enough for some users. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook has trended on Twitter, and won support from prominent Silicon Valley personalities including Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who deleted the two company’s Facebook profiles, and Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, a messaging service Facebook bought in 2014 for $19 billion.

Zuckerberg has also drawn the attention of lawmakers in Washington, DC, to whom he’ll be testifying in hearings next week.

Zuckerberg also said Wednesday that he had not fired anyone over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He said ultimately the onus is on him. “I’m not looking to throw anyone under the bus,” he said.

From Russia, with heartache

Cambridge Analytica isn’t the only controversy Facebook is dealing with.

The company is still reeling from Russian trolls abusing the social network during the 2016 US presidential campaign to try to meddle with the election and sow discord among Americans. The Russian agents used a combination of paid ads and organic posts to spread misinformation and propaganda on the platform.

Zuckerberg said Wednesday it was a mistake to dismiss the impact of fake news as “crazy,” which he infamously did two days after the election. “It was too flippant.”

Since the election, Facebook has been taking steps to try and make sure other elections aren’t compromised. The company is building an archive of election ads that it will make available in the summer.

Facebook has also stepped up its fight against misinformation. The company has partnered with news organizations like the Agence France-Presse to help fact-check fake news. Facebook will also be able to fact check videos and photos, not only links to written articles.

The company also said it would hire 20,000 people to work on security and content reviews. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg said so far the company has brought on 15,000 people, and will continue to ramp up.

“It’s clear now we didn’t do enough” to make sure Facebook’s products couldn’t be abused, Zuckerberg said. “That was a huge mistake. It was my mistake.”

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