Facebook's Zuckerberg: I started this place, I run it, I'm responsible

The CEO acknowledges that millions more profiles than initially reported were passed to Cambridge Analytica. In a candid conversation with the press, he says it's all on him.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Ian Sherr
Richard Nieva
5 min read
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg has been under fire over concerns that Facebook doesn't take user's privacy seriously.

James Martin/CNET

On the day Facebook announced that 87 million users had their data compromised in the Cambridge Analytica scandal -- up from 50 million -- CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he's still the right man to run the world's largest social network.

"Life is about learning from mistakes," Zuckerberg, 33, said on a call Wednesday with reporters. "At the end of the day, this is my responsibility. I started this place, I run it, I'm responsible."  

The unusual media comes as Facebook faces defecting advertisers, legislative ire in the US and abroad and unhappy users over its mishandling of people's data in what's become known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  (A full transcript and audio recording of that call are available here).

Watch this: Millions more affected in Facebook data grab

The scandal kicked off in mid-March when Facebook acknowledged that the London-based data analytics firm had improperly received leaked profile information on more than 50 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica reportedly used that data to help sway elections and political campaigns around the world, including working for the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election. The fallout continued Wednesday when Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said in a blog post the number of people whose data Cambridge Analytica had was much higher than originally thought.

Zuckerberg isn't just dealing with the fallout about improper handling of people's information, or who did what, when. It's whether Facebook, with 2 billion people using it each month, is trustworthy. It's about whether this communication platform can be relied on to handle information for one out of every three people on the planet and continue to be the central part of our lives that it's become.

Facing repeated questions about this future at Facebook, Zuckerberg, who serves as chairman of the board as well as the company's chief, made clear he doesn't plan to step down as CEO.  Instead, he described Facebook as trying to come to terms with what had happened. "We're an idealistic and optimistic company," he said. "We know now we didn't do enough to focus on preventing abuse and thinking through how people use these tools to do harm."

Facebook now faces two central questions, he said: "Can we get our systems under control, and second, can we make sure that our systems aren't used to undermine democracy?"

That will probably require some adjustments to the social media platform.

"It's not enough to give people a voice, we have to make sure that people are not using that voice to spread disinformation," Zuckerberg said, acknowledging that Facebook has "to ensure that everyone in our ecosystem protects people's information."

Questions and answers

Facebook's public woes began last month when the company said it cut off Cambridge Analytica's access to its service. But that was only after it found out that The New York Times and the Guardian's Observer had learned about the data misuse, which occurred three years ago.

In response to a question from CNET, Zuckerberg said he waited to announce the number of people affected until Wednesday because Facebook wanted to get a "full understanding" and "give you the complete picture." Last week, Zuckerberg said data from "tens of millions" of people was caught up in the rogue app created by a lecturer at University of Cambridge to collect profile information that was then handed over to Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg said the company is planning to audit apps and companies that connect with its service after apologizing and acknowledging the company left people vulnerable to having their public profiles collected by bad actors. 

Now, it's adding restrictions to its Facebook Login tool for apps, which lets users log into various services using their Facebook data. All apps that request access to information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups as part of that login process will now need to be approved. Additionally, Facebook said outside apps won't be able to collect information such as religious or political views, relationship status or education and work history.

People will also no longer be able to search for Facebook profiles by typing phone numbers and email addresses into the social network's search box. The company also put more limits on what information developers could gather from a handful of services, including its Events, Groups and Pages features.

All of Facebook's efforts to mitigate the damage both to people's privacy and its own reputation haven't been enough for some users. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook has trended on Twitter, and won support from prominent Silicon Valley personalities including Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who deleted the two company's Facebook profiles, and Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, the messaging service Facebook bought in 2014 for $19 billion.

Zuckerberg has also drawn the attention of lawmakers in Washington, to whom he'll be testifying in hearings next week.

Meanwhile, Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a series of interviews Thursday the company hasn't found other companies that used leaked data the way Cambridge Analytica did. "As we find more Cambridge Analyticas, we're going to find a comprehensive way to put them out and make sure people see them," Sandberg said. "So far, we don't have another clear case to share."

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg said he hadn't fired anyone over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Ultimately the onus is on him, he said. "I'm not looking to throw anyone under the bus."

From Russia, with heartache

Cambridge Analytica isn't the only controversy Facebook's dealing with.

It's still reeling from Russian trolls abusing the social network during the 2016 US presidential campaign to meddle with the election and sow discord among Americans. Russian agents used a combination of paid ads and organic posts to spread misinformation and propaganda on the platform. On Tuesday, Zuckerberg announced the site is taking down more than 270 pages and accounts operated by a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency, saying the IRA "has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe, and Russia -- and we don't want them on Facebook anywhere in the world."

Zuckerberg said Wednesday it was a mistake to dismiss the impact of fake news as "crazy," which he infamously did two days after the election. "It was too flippant."

Since the election, Facebook has taken steps to try to make sure other elections aren't compromised. It's building an archive of election ads that it will make available in the summer, and it's looking to expand the use of artificial intelligence to help identify bad behavior on its service.

The company has also stepped up its fight against misinformation. It's partnered with news organizations like Agence France-Presse to help fact-check fake news. Facebook will also be able to fact-check videos and photos, not only links to written articles.

The social network also said it would hire 20,000 people to work on security and content reviews. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg said so far it has brought on 15,000 people, and will continue to ramp up.

"It's clear now we didn't do enough" to make sure Facebook's products couldn't be abused, Zuckerberg said. "That was a huge mistake. It was my mistake."

First published April 4, 1:55 p.m. PT.
Update, April 5, 10:11 a.m. PT: Adds link to transcript and recording of Zuckerberg's conference call; 2:50 p.m. PT: Adds comments from COO Sandberg Thursday.

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