MENLO PARK Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg broke days of silence Wednesday, addressing allegations that Cambridge Analytica had misused personal data and acknowledging his company made mistakes in handling its more than 2.2 billion users information.
The stakes are extremely high for Menlo Park-based Facebook as it tries to win back its users trust, after reports over the weekend that Cambridge Analytica a London-based data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trumps presidential campaign had accessed the personal information of 50 million Facebook users without their permission. Federal regulators are investigating the data breach, and politicians are mulling new privacy rules that could hamstring tech firms.
On Wednesday, a contrite Zuckerberg revealed steps his company is taking to improve how it safeguards users data.
We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we cant then we dont deserve to serve you, Zuckerberg said in a 937-word post on his personal Facebook page. I started Facebook, and at the end of the day Im responsible for what happens on our platform.
Zuckerberg offered a timeline starting with the launch of the Facebook platform in 2007, which he said enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them. The timeline culminated with Facebook learning last week that Cambridge Analytica continued to possess user data that Facebook initially said the London firm had erased at Facebooks request.
Over the weekend, the New York Times and the Guardian revealed that a Cambridge University professor, Aleksandr Kogan, passed along user data to Cambridge Analytica, which he had collected from his personality-prediction app on Facebook. While the app was originally intended for academic research, Kogan said he updated its user terms to disclose that he would be selling user data.
Former Cambridge Analytica employee Chris Wylie has said the firms data and analysis helped shape the politically divisive tone of the Trump campaign.
Cambridge Analytica is partly owned by big GOP donor Robert Mercer, and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was a vice president at the firm. Facebook has said it was deceived by Kogan, who provided the users data to the firm. Kogan has said hes being scapegoated by the social networking giant.
Facebook has suspended the accounts of Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Wylie.
Responding to the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Zuckerberg outlined three steps Wednesday that Facebook will take to better secure users privacy and control of their data.
Facebook will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before the company changed its platform to reduce access to data in 2014. It will conduct full audits of any apps that appear to engage in suspicious activity, and any developer that doesnt agree to an audit will be banned from Facebook.
And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps, Zuckerberg said.
Facebooks second new policy involves restricting developers data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse. Developers will also lose their access to users data if someone hasnt used a developers app in three months.
The third item Zuckerberg detailed is aimed at letting Facebook users know which apps they have allowed to access their data. Over the next month, Facebook users will see a tool at the top of their news feed with the apps they have used, and will have an easier way to revoke those apps permissions to access a users data. This feature had previously been available in a Facebook users privacy settings.
Yet some Silicon Valley technology experts questioned whether Facebooks new remedies will go far enough to shore up confidence in the social networking giant, and a U.S. senator called on Zuckerberg to go to D.C. to face lawmakers.
U.S. Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, responded to Zuckerbergs statement with his own brief Facebook post, saying, You need to come to Congress and testify to this under oath.
Earlier this week, Facebooks stock price plunged as the Cambridge Analytica backlash gathered momentum and Zuckerberg remained silent. Between Monday and Tuesday, Facebooks market capitalization tumbled by more than $60 billion or more than the entire market value of Tesla. It ended the Wednesday trading session up 0.7 percent at $169.39 a share, with a market cap of $492.1 billion.
But its shares have fallen 8.5 percent since March 16.
The Cambridge Analytica brouhaha comes as Facebook is still dealing with the fallout from its role in helping spread fake news and propaganda by Russian trolls, an idea Zuckerberg scoffed at two years ago even calling it crazy.
Dan Ives, head of technology research at GBH Insights, said that the Cambridge Analytica issue will remain a dark cloud over the Facebook name in the near term, but that the actions Zuckerberg outlined in his blog post should help users, advertisers and investors feel more comfortable that Facebook and Zuckerberg are starting to get their arms around this issue.
Zuckerberg didnt explain his days-long silence since the Cambridge Analytica news surfaced. Prior to his statement on Wednesday, his last public Facebook post was a March 2 photo showing Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan holding a tray of hamentashen cookies, celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim.
But Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a post Wednesday, Weve spent the past few days working to get a fuller picture so we can stop this from happening again.
Some analysts who follow Facebook said Zuckerbergs post, while tardy, was a case of better late than never.
It does appear Zuckerberg is owning the problem, said Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with Campbell-based Creative Strategies, a market research firm. To date, he has been hesitant to do so with some of these data problems.
Others expressed concern that Facebooks efforts could once again fall short of truly fixing whats broken with the platform.
What weve seen from Facebook over the years is that theyre introducing technologies without really considering the risks, said Michael Connor, executive director of Open Media and Information Companies Initiative, a nonprofit that works on socially responsible investing and shareholder engagement, in an interview Tuesday.
You frequently hear from them, were trying, but not really that were solving the problem,’ Connor said.
Reporters George Avalos and Seung Lee contributed to this article.