Washington (AFP) – Embattled Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg faces a critical test this week as he goes before the US Congress to explain how user privacy was compromised at the world’s biggest social network — and how he plans to fix it.
On the eve of the Capitol Hill showdown, Facebook was set Monday to make some amends — by notifying users whose data was improperly shared with a consulting firm working for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The huge social network built by the 33-year-old Zuckerberg, which has two billion users, has taken a series of proactive steps to make up for massive lapses in protecting personal data, as lawmakers signaled they intend to get tough on privacy.
Last week, Facebook announced new privacy tools to be in place Monday, and said it would notify the 87 million Facebook users affected by the data hijacking scandal.
“I think there’s just been a very basic shift in how we view our responsibility,” Zuckerberg told The Atlantic in an interview published Monday.
“You know, you can’t just give people a voice. You need to also make sure that that voice is not used for foreign interference in elections or disseminating fake news.”
The social networking leader is facing probes on both sides of the Atlantic following disclosures that personal user data was hijacked and improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy working for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Facebook said over the weekend it suspended another data analysis firm, US-based Cubeyou, after reports that it used private data harvested from psychological testing apps for commercial purposes.
Zuckerberg was reportedly already in Washington on Monday, meeting with lawmakers.
– Backing ‘Honest Ads’ –
On Friday, Facebook sought to quell some concerns over political manipulation of its platform by announcing support for the “Honest Ads Act” that requires election ad buyers to be identified, and to go further with verification of sponsors of ads on key public policy issues.
Zuckerberg said the change will mean “we will hire thousands of more people” to get the new system in place ahead of US midterm elections in November.
“We’re starting this in the US and expanding to the rest of the world in the coming months,” Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page.
The new privacy tools were set to be in place in user news feeds Monday, and Facebook was to notify those whose data was leaked to Cambridge Analytics, including 70 million in the United States and up to 2.7 million in Europe.
On Monday, Facebook also agreed to supply proprietary data for a study on its role in elections and democracy, researchers announced.
“Social media is now where many go for news. We can’t understand our democracy without opening the hood and taking a look,” said Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation, which is supporting the research along with the Charles Koch Foundation, Omidyar Network and others.
Facebook has said it has seen little impact on its business from the privacy scandal despite a #deleteFacebook movement and concerns from advertisers.
But Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research said the entire digital advertising industry, of which Google and Facebook are the leaders, could be impacted by the scandal.
The changes announced by Facebook and Google restricting third-party access “indicate a higher likelihood that both companies will ‘raise their walls’ … Both of these trends will likely harm ad tech companies focused on buying media or otherwise focused on the Facebook and Google ecosystems.”
One prominent tech leader, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, announced meanwhile that he was leaving the social network.
“Users provide every detail of their life to Facebook,” Wozniak told USA Today.
“Facebook makes a lot of advertising money off this. The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back.”