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Zuckerberg admits 'mistakes' over Facebook data scandal, vows fix

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, breaking his silence over the data scandal roiling the social network, acknowledged Wednesday that the company had made "mistakes" and needed to "step up" to fix the problem.

"We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you," Zuckerberg said in his first public comments since the scandal broke last weekend.

Writing on his Facebook page, he added: "I've been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn't happen again.

"The most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago.

"But we also made mistakes, there's more to do, and we need to step up and do it."

The scandal first erupted after a whistleblower from British data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) said it was able to create psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users via a personality prediction app downloaded by 270,000 people that also scooped up their friends' data.

CA is accused of then using the information for US President Donald Trump's election 2016 campaign.

Zuckerberg's admission follows another day of damaging accusations against the world's biggest social network.

A former Facebook employee told British lawmakers the firm had a "wild west" approach to personal data protection, while a privacy campaigner said he warned in 2011 of the loopholes that have led to the current crisis.

Sandy Parakilas, who worked in policy compliance and data protection for Facebook between 2011 and 2012, said the platform's data policies "had very few ways of discovering abuse or enforcing on abuse when it was discovered".

"Facebook was allowing developers to access the data of people who hadn't explicitly authorised that," he told a parliamentary committee.

"(It) was aware that this had happened and didn't notify anyone, and then should have been aware that it was continuing to happen and then didn't notify anyone."

Meanwhile Max Schrems, a Vienna-Based activist who has brought online data protection cases before European courts, told AFP he complained to the Irish Data Protection Authority in 2011 about the controversial data harvesting methods.

Schrems said that he also had a seven-hour meeting with Facebook representatives the following year to discuss concerns around apps operating in this fashion, but that they said they saw no problems with their policies.

"They explicitly said that in their view, by using the platform you consent to a situation where other people can install an app and gather your data," Schrems said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have demanded answers, which has ratcheted up the pressure on Facebook -- already under fire for allowing fake news to proliferate on its platform during the US presidential election.

A movement to quit the social network gathered momentum Wednesday, while a handful of lawsuits emerged which could turn into class actions that may prove a costly distraction for the company. The scandal, which has seen the suspension of CA's chief executive, wiped out US$60 billion of Facebook's market value since the start of the week, Bloomberg news reported Wednesday.

Both Facebook and CA have denied wrongdoing and instead blamed the inventor of the app that harvested the data, academic Aleksandr Kogan, for misusing it. But earlier Wednesday he said he was being scapegoated, claiming CA had assured him his activities were above board.

"I'm being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica," he said. "We thought we were acting perfectly appropriately.

"We were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the terms of service" of Facebook."

The University of Cambridge psychologist behind the personality survey This Is Your Digital Life told the BBC that around 200,000 people used his app and around 30 million US Facebook users' details were harvested.

The app's vast reach beyond its users happened by scooping up data from their friends on Facebook, which says the details were taken without its knowledge.

Kogan said CA approached him to do the work, but did not know how the firm would use the personal data collected, leaving him "stunned" by the allegations against him.

Kogan said he strongly regretted not asking more questions about the work he did for CA.

He added he would be prepared to appear before British or US lawmakers if requested.

European Union officials have called for an urgent investigation while British, US and EU lawmakers have asked Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence.

The EU on Wednesday unveiled proposals for a digital tax that targets US tech giants, heaping more problems on Facebook.

The plans are aimed at recovering billions of euros from mainly US multinationals that shift earnings around Europe to pay lower tax rates.

US media reported Tuesday evening that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook over the data scandal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May urged Facebook and CA to cooperate with the national information commissioner's probe.

"The allegations are clearly very concerning," she told MPs.

"People need to have confidence in how their personal data is being used.

"I would expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and all organisations involved to comply fully with the investigation that is taking place."

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