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Mark Zuckerberg Breaks Silence on Facebook User-Data Controversy

CEO acknowledges a 'breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us'

Mark Zuckerberg, in his first comments since the user-privacy crisis now engulfing the company broke last Friday, admitted Facebook has made mistakes and outlined what it plans to do to restore trust with users.

The issue: Cambridge Analytica, a U.K.-based political data-analytics firm hired by the 2016 Trump campaign, got its hands on data for 50 million Facebook users — without the users’ knowledge or consent.

“I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago,” Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”

Here’s what Zuckerberg said Facebook will do: First, it will investigate all apps that had access to “large amounts of information” before Facebook changed its policies to reduce data access in 2014.

Second, Facebook will restrict developers’ data access “even further to prevent other kinds of abuse,” according to Zuckerberg. For example, it will remove developers’ ability to access user data if Facebook users hasn’t used their app in three months. Third, within the next month, Facebook will display a tool at the top of the News Feed with apps users have used and an easy way to revoke those apps’ permissions to your data.

Facebook says Aleksandr Kogan, the University of Cambridge researcher who sold the data to Cambridge Analytica after procuring it through a personality-quiz app dating back to 2013, lied to Facebook and violated its policies. In 2015, Facebook demanded that Cambridge Analytica and Kogan “formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data” and they provided those certifications, according to Zuckerberg.

However, upon learning that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted all the Facebook user data in question, Facebook on March 16 barred Cambridge Analytica and its parent company from using its platform. Facebook says it no longer allows third-party apps to capture data the way that was done in this case.

“This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.”

The scandal has drawn renewed scrutiny on Facebook’s data-handling practices from lawmakers and regulators, led some users to call for a boycott (via the hashtag #DeleteFacebook) and prompted lawsuits from shareholders and users. It ignited a two-day selloff of Facebook stock, before shares recovered some ground Wednesday.

Zuckerberg’s low profile on the Cambridge Analytica story over the last several days has been conspicuous. The CEO reportedly did not participate in a Q&A Tuesday with employees, and morale at Facebook is said to be at a low point.

What’s next: Facebook is facing an inquiry from the Federal Trade Commission, which is looking into whether the social-media company violated a 2011 agreement with the agency requiring user consent over disclosures of personal data.

At this point, it’s unclear whether the uproar over Cambridge Analytica will lead to new legislation or government regulations (or any significant user exodus). Several Wall Street analysts believe Facebook will weather the storm, and they expect minimal long-term impact on the internet powerhouse’s overall ad business.

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