“We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, then we don’t deserve it.” So reads the headline of full page ads signed by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, as apology for a data breach affecting over 50 million users of the online application. The apology ran in a half dozen British papers as well as major U.S. dailies including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times.
The misuse of data occurred when Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan collected data from users according to Facebook guidelines but then passed that information contrary to Facebook policy to third party company Cambridge Analytica. In 2014, Cambridge Analytica acquired that information and used it to benefit their client, and U.S. presidential hopeful, Donald Trump.
The data breach comes at a time when Facebook is still reeling from being the digital tool Russian trolls used to disrupt and influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Stolen Facebook identities and ‘Fake News’ was used to successfully target Facebook users who would vote in the presidential election. Given Facebook’s promise to make changes after the Russian infiltration, skepticism is rife regarding the company’s latest assertions they have made appropriate changes to protect data.
Zuckerberg’s apology ad goes on to say, “You may have heard about a quiz app built by a university researcher that leaked Facebook data of millions of people in 2014. This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time. We’re now taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The print ads were far more candid than Zuckerberg’s first public response on March 21. In a lengthy Facebook post he explained details of the data breach but never apologized. “The good news is that 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.”
Adding fuel to the fire of discontent about misuse of data, a condescending explanation was issued by Deputy General Counsel to Facebook, Paul Grewal, “The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”
Both Zuckerberg’s and Grewal’s explanations fell flat, the value of the online service dropped precipitously and Facebook scrambled to publicly acknowledge their shortcomings with apology. In the two weeks after Facebook announced it had knowledge of the data breach since 2015, company stock plummeted 13 percent and lost over $70 million in value.
Users Drop Facebook
For the first time since the company’s founding, fewer people used Facebook in North America at the end of 2017. The drop may be due to a saturated market of over 180 million users, the amount of negative press over ‘Fake News,’ stolen identities, user scams and undue Russian election influence. With the additional media over the data breach, Facebook is facing further declines in 2018.
In the U.S., younger users favor other communication platforms including Instagram and Snapchat in greater numbers and the average Facebook user is spending less time on the site compared to previous usage. All factors point to declining revenue for the company in North America. However, users continue to climb in the international arena.
Businessman Elon Musk deleted the Tesla page saying the online service gave him the “willies.” He used Twitter to explain his decision. Several celebrities led the charge to delete Facebook accounts and #deleteFacebook has been a trending hashtag on Twitter.
Will Ferrell announced he would delete his account in 72 hours, allowing time for his friends and fans to read his explanation, “I know I am not alone when I say that I was very disturbed to hear about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of millions of Facebook users’ information in order to undermine our democracy and infringe on our citizens’ privacy. I was further appalled to learn that Facebook’s reaction to such a violation was to suspend the account of the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower. In this day and age, with misinformation running rampant, it’s important that we protect the truth, as well as those who work to bring it to light.” Ferrell sums up with, “I can no longer, in good conscience, use the services of a company that allowed the spread of propaganda and directly aimed it at those most vulnerable.”
Legislators in Europe and the United States are calling for a full investigation into how data was used to influence the presidential election and to ensure it can’t and won’t happen again. The idea of regulating social media platforms is being more discussed than ever before.
Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, took to Twitter to proclaim, “It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves... They say ‘trust us.’ Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.” Klobuchar is a member of that committee.
A bipartisan request by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, a Republican, and Democrat Frank Pallone will be issued to Zuckerberg to appear before their committee. They issued a joint statement reading, “The latest revelations regarding Facebook’s use and security of user data raises many serious consumer protection concerns. After committee staff received a briefing yesterday from Facebook officials, we felt that many questions were left unanswered… We look forward to working with Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg to determine a date and time in the near future for a hearing before this committee.”
Zuckerberg’s full-page ad concludes with, “Thank you for believing in this community. I promise to do better for you.” It remains to be seen whether users will accept the apology. A Reuters poll released last week showed that fewer than half U.S. Facebook users trust the company to adhere to data privacy laws.