Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg today (April 4) outlined the company's latest moves to address public fears over the extent of data scraping in a rare live Q&A with the media; updates that come as its privacy scandal rumbles on.
The updates also come the same day as the social network disclosed that the information on up to 87 million Facebook users "may have been accessed improperly" by Cambridge Analytica as part of its recently announced privacy audit.
Facing questions from assorted journalists in a global phone-in, Zuckerberg was grilled on a wide array of issues. These included: his fitness for leadership; balancing the needs of growing revenue while maintaining user-privacy; and the need for Facebook to better articulate its value exchange to the public.
In pre-prepared comments, he told said that Facebook hasn’t done enough to protect its users’ privacy adequately and that the company has now taken full stock of the role the social network plays in democratic society given the scale of its reach and engagement.
“We’re an idealistic and optimistic company, and for the first decade we really focused on all the good connecting people brings,” he told journalists.
“But it’s clear now we didn’t do enough — focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well, and that goes for fake news, foreign interference and hate speech, in addition to application developers and data privacy.”
Zuckerberg is not considering his position at the helm of Facebook
Under open questioning later from journalists, Zuckerberg was asked if Facebook's board discussed his posting as the Facebook chairman and chief executive in light of investors raising concerns over its corporate governance.
Striking a defiant tone in response to this direct line of questioning, Zuckerberg commented that neither he nor Facebook’s board members, had contemplated such a move in recent weeks.
When later quizzed over whether the recent revelations of data security compromises had resulted in the dismissal of employees at fault, Zuckerberg accepted ultimate responsibility but added that he doesn't want to "throw anyone under the bus for mistakes that we've made here."
However, he did add that the leadership of the social network was learning from its mistakes. “Knowing what I know today, clearly we should have done more,” he added.
The chief executive went on to add that its latest round of security measures to restrict API access to certain parties were far from the end of its security audit post the latest revelations of privacy compromises.
Striking a balance between ‘business and community’
Zuckerberg was also asked directly about the recently publicized controversial post by senior Facebook employee Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth where he effectively declared that all growth was good – albeit ‘Boz’ later distanced himself from the sentiment.
"I disagreed with that at the time [and] I disagree with it now," Zuckerberg said. "I don't think it stands for what most people in the company [believe]."
Zuckerberg also addressed the need to strike a balance between Facebook’s stakeholders, i.e. advertisers, 2 billion users, plus third-party app developers.
“Our product is challenging to manage and operate, and about the trade-offs about managing the people and the business, those are quite easy: over the long term the business will be better if you serve people.”
Later addressing the impact that restricting ad targeting on the network may have on the business side of the platform, he added: “I just think it would be near-sighted to focus on short-term revenue over what value to people, and I don’t think we’re that short-sighted. All the hard decisions we have to make are just trade-offs between people.”
Discussing the disparate interests that Facebook has to placate in such a large and diverse ecosystem, he added the fact "that different people have different interests" posed it with a dilemma, as one person's freedom of speech is another's hate speech.
Better articulating Facebook's value exchange
The recent controversy over Facebook's protection of its users' privacy first aired as part of an editorial exposé that coincided with Advertising Week Europe. It was a development that saw advertisers threaten to pull media spend from the social network – Mozilla actually did so – and high-profile figures in the tech community adding fuel to the fire with barbed #DeleteFacebook comments.
However, under questioning from journalists on this matter, Zuckerberg stated: "I don't think there's been any meaningful impact that we've observed, but it's not good – I don't want anyone to be unhappy with our services."
He went on to add that: "It still speaks to people's feeling of a massive breach of trust, and we've got a lot of work to do to repair that."
Facebook's recent security measures
In a blog post published earlier in the day by Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer acknowledged that most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in some way shape or form, such as Search and Account Recovery, whereby people could enter another person’s phone number or email address into Facebook search to help find them.
In the same post, he outlined the social network’s recent efforts to restrict API access, in an overhaul its hopes will seal user information to its 2 billion members.
- Limitations on its Events API meaning app developers can no longer access the guest list or posts on the event wall
- Limitations on its Groups API means that all third-party apps will need approval from Facebook plus an admin
- All future access to the Pages API will need to be approved by Facebook
- Facebook will need to approve all apps that request access to information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups
- The recently announced deprecation of the Instagram Platform API effective today
- Disabling its search and account recovery capacities
- Facebook will delete all logs of calls and account history older than one year for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android
These steps are in the near-term in addition to previous actions, but Zuckerberg acknowledged that there is still a long way to go to ensure that the brand and platform remains strong for advertisers and users.
"I wish that I could snap my fingers and, in three months or six months, have solved all of these issues," he said. "I do think this is a multi-year effort. That doesn't mean it's not going to get better every month. It's going to take some time, and we're committed to getting that right, and we're going to invest and keep on working until we do."