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The storm around Facebook’s controversial data sharing with Cambridge Analytica continued at the weekend despite efforts by the social networking firm’s chief to contain the fallout.
After a week of growing criticism of Facebook’s actions and the response by company leaders, CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued further apologies in the press in the UK and the US.
In full-page Sunday newspaper ads, he said Facebook could have done more to stop millions of users having their data exploited for political ends by London-based data mining firm Cambridge Analytica.
“This was a breach of trust, and I am sorry,” he said. “We’re now taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg broke their silence on the issue and apologised only after fallout from the scandal wiped off more than $50bn in stock market value, claiming they had not spoken earlier because they had needed time “to get to the bottom of this”, despite reportedly knowing of the issue since 2015.
The scandal dates back to 2014 when Facebook invited users to take part in a personality type quiz developed by Cambridge University researcher Alexsandr Kogan.
According to whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, around 270,000 users’ data was collected through the quiz, but the app also collected some public data from around 50 million friends of quiz participants without their knowledge, despite warnings in 2011 by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner that Facebook’s security policies were too weak to stop abuse, according to The Telegraph.
Wylie claims the data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, which then used it to profile people to deliver political messaging to them during the US presidential election campaign and the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU in 2016.
Facebook claims Kogan passed this information on to Cambridge Analytica without its knowledge, while Cambridge Analytica has blamed Kogan for any potential breach of data rules, but he claims Cambridge Analytica told him everything they had done was legal, and that he is being made a scapegoat.
Read more about Facebook and privacy
- Privacy International calls for UK response to data exploitation.
- WhatsApp has agreed to stop sharing personal data with Facebook until data protection concerns are addressed.
- How to protect your personal information on Facebook.
- Facebook has tweaked its privacy settings yet again in a charm offensive aimed at encouraging users to share more content.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has now joined the public debate on the issue by calling for stronger privacy regulations that prevent the misuse of data by applying it in new ways without the knowledge of the data owners, according to Bloomberg News.
“I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” he said. “The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life – from my own point of view, it shouldn’t exist.”
Commentators said Cook’s comments will increase pressure on Facebook and other firms that rely on the data gathered from users to drive their products and services.
Cook’s comments came just days after Privacy International called on UK policy-makers to take action in seven areas in response to the data exploitation issues highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal.
This includes making ammendments to the Data Protection Bill, which currently allows registered political parties to process personal data “revealing political opinions” for the purposes of their political activities.
Privacy International described the current lack of transparency into how companies are using people’s data as “unacceptable”, and called for “stringent safeguards” to protect personal data from unauthorised exploitation.
Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk also joined the #DeleteFacebook movement, ordering the official pages for two of his companies, Tesla and SpaceX, to be taken down, reports The Guardian. Earlier in the week, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton tweeted: “It is time. #DeleteFacebook.”