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Zuckerberg apologises for Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal in testimony

Image credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Before his much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has provided written testimony to Congress in which he apologises for failing to prevent the collection of tens of millions of users’ personal data by a data analytics company.

In his written statement, Zuckerberg provides yet another apology, and admits some responsibility for the recent data scraping scandal which was exposed by an investigative report in The Observer.

Hundreds of thousands of users consented to provide their data for academic use via an app, thisisyourdigitallife.

The app harvested data from the users and their Facebook contacts and allowed tens of millions of users’ data to be collected without their consent, for commercial use.

This data was used as the basis for algorithms to influence the voting behaviour of Facebook users by UK-based data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, including for Donald Trump’s campaign in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook has since confirmed that up to 87 million people may have had their personal data collected by Cambridge Analytica in this way.

“I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Recently, the US Federal Trade Commission [FTC] established agreements with Google and Twitter that are helping to shape new privacy standards for our industry. Today, the FTC announced a similar agreement with Facebook.”

He added that Facebook’s leadership could have done more to identify these risky tools and prevent them from having been used: “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm.”

In his letter, he also acknowledges that he must take personal responsibility for some other controversial issues which have dogged Facebook over the past year, including the platform being used to host threatening, misleading and abusive content.

“That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

“So now we have to go through every part of our relationship with people and make sure we’re taking a broad enough view of our responsibility.”

Zuckerberg met with legislators earlier this week. Over the next few days, he will appear before congressional committees which are investigating issues relating to the management of user data by Facebook.

Other congressional committees – as well as the FBI – have been investigating the use of Facebook and other social media platforms by Moscow-backed organisations generating content intended to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook says it is working with the US government to understand the full extent of Russian interference in the election.

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