The Cambridge Analytica - Facebook scandal has captured the imagination of a lot of online users who are active on social media, as well as those who aren't. The fact that Facebook keeps changing its privacy settings on a regular basis is known, but never before has a third party used Facebook's internal data and sold it to an external client. Or at least nothing to that extent has been discovered so far. With data of close fo 50 million Facebook users alleged to have been compromised, the path ahead for Facebook is surely filled with thorns.
Mark Zuckerberg has said nothing on the matter so far
At a time when the company's stock value is taking a pounding — around $60 bn was wiped off Facebook's stock yesterday — one would have expected CEO and co-founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg to come out and address the issue head-on. But there have been no updates on Zuckerberg's Facebook page since 2 March. This is in stark contrast to how pro-active Zuckerberg has been in the recent past when it came to addressing issues that have been plaguing the platform over the last couple of years.
Zuckerberg's absence from publically addressing the matter is particularly strange looking at the current allegations being made. According to Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who opened this can of worms, Facebook was informed about Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook user data but no action was taken.
A more recent report on The Guardian interviewed Sandy Parakilas who was the former platform operations manager at Facebook looking after data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012. According to Parakilas, Facebook senior executives were warned about its lax approach to data protection and how that was a matter of concern. There was also no way of knowing what developers did with the Facebook data, but Parakilas said that Facebook could have prevented this from happening. However, when he tried highlighting the issue, his suggestions were shot down.
In addition to that, yesterday, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton also joined in the #deletefacebook chorus on his Twitter handle.
Zuckerberg not even putting out an assuring Facebook status message is nothing short of shocking during such a time. We are sure, Zuckerberg and his team are working on a solution on this tricky matter, but not communicating with the public could send wrong signals.
Zuckerberg is working 'round the clock' says Facebook spokesperson
According to a report in The Daily Beast, Zuckerberg declined to face his employees to explain the role of Facebook in the latest controversy with Cambridge Analytica. Instead of Zuckerberg, it was Facebook attorney Paul Grewal who addressed the meeting with the employees. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are the two most well-known faces of Facebook, and both of them were absent from the meeting which was meant to answer employee queries around the latest Facebook controversy.
Instead, according to a Facebook spokesperson, The Daily Beast was told that both Zuckerberg and Sandberg were working 'round the clock' to get all the facts in order to take the correct action moving forward. "The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens," said the Facebook spokesperson.
Senate wants Zuckerberg to present himself before them, not his lawyers or his number twos
This is not the first time that Zuckerberg hasn't personally faced the controversy head-on, when allegations were made. So far, even for the hearings over the Russian ads controversy, Zuckerberg wasn't the one who appeared in front of the Senate. It has always been other senior representatives or lawyers.
DCMS Committee asks Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence. Worth a go, I guess pic.twitter.com/Vztq1ZW2cK
— James Cook (@JamesLiamCook) March 20, 2018
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) has sent out a letter to Zuckerberg requesting him to appear before them to give oral evidence of what has transpired. According to DCMS, the committee wanted to know how companies acquired and held on to user data from Facebook and if this data had been taken without Facebook's permission. "Your officials have consistently understated this risk and have been misleading the Committee. It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process," said the DCMS letter, clearly hinting that it was Zuckerberg they wanted to appear before the panel.
US Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said on Tuesday that Facebook Inc chief executive Zuckerberg should testify in Congress about his company’s treatment of users’ data. She said it in no uncertain terms, "I think that we ought to have the head of Facebook, not their lawyer, not their number two, but their number one, come..."
What Facebook has done so far
So far, on the Facebook News page, one can only see two updates since the Cambridge Analytica controversy first came to the for after The Guardian and The New York Times reports.
In its first update, Facebook said that it had suspended the accounts of SCL and Cambridge Analytica. By Facebook's own admission, it discovered that in 2015, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr Alexsandr Kogan had violated the Platform Policies by sharing Facebook data to SCL and in effect Cambridge Analytica.
According to Facebook, there was no data breach as the users who had downloaded the app made by Kogan, did so of their own accord.
"People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked," said Facebook. On the topic of the data of friends also being compromised, Facebook's 'platform policy' allows only the collection of friends' data to improve the in-app user experience and this data is not meant to be sold outside. For now, Facebook has suspended the accounts of Cambridge Analytica, Dr Alexsandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie, till further investigations.
In what can be construed as a self-goal, Facebook even threatened The Guardian with a legal notice against publishing the report, calling it 'false and defamatory' allegations.
Facebook's arguments denying the 'data breach' have a similar tone of the UIDAI denying any issues with Aadhaar security despite the many data vulnerabilities.
The second update on the Facebook News page was about conducting a digital forensic investigation of SCL and Cambridge Analytica. It has hired independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica. Facebook said that while Cambridge Analytica had agreed to co-operate, Kogan had given a verbal agreement to do so and Wylie had declined to allow an audit.
"This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists. This is data Cambridge Analytica, SCL, Mr Wylie, and Mr Kogan certified to Facebook had been destroyed. If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made," said Facebook.
The departure of Facebook's chief information security officer
In what may seem like an unrelated development, Facebook's chief information security officer Alex Stamos will be leaving the company in August. According to reports, the reason being speculated behind Stamos' departure are internal disagreements with Facebook over how the social network should deal with its role in spreading misinformation. According to the New York Times, Stamos had been strongly advocating for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on the social media platform, but it seems like that was to the consternation of top executives at Facebook.
Stamos’ responsibilities were reassigned in December after which Stamos said he would leave the company, the Times said. Stamos was persuaded to stay through August to oversee the transition of his duties because company executives thought his exit would look bad, it said, citing current and former employees.
This sounds a lot similar to what Parakilas went through. And if this indeed is the case, then it is a matter of concern.
As more and more aspects of this Facebook - Cambridge Analytica controversy comes to the surface, everyone is still awaiting the big boss of Facebook to speak on the matter.
While it is too early to say how much of a damage control Zuckerberg's public statements will cause, one thing is for certain: the longer Zuckerberg takes to respond, the stronger will be the incentive for government organisations to regulate aspects of social media.