Mark Zuckerberg emerged from the shadows on Wednesday afternoon after four days of silence.
Facebook apparently had been crafting its response to the news that a voter-profiling data consultancy called Cambridge Analytica had obtained private data of more than 50 million Facebook users back in 2014. On Wednesday afternoon, Zuckerberg published a Facebook post acknowledging the situation and appeared in interviews with a handful of news outlets — amid suggestions that he might be wise to resign.
Over the weekend, The New York Times and The Observer broke the news of the data breach and published interviews with former Cambridge Analytica employee Chris Wylie to explain what had occurred. Wylie explained that in 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan, who had received permission to gather Facebook data for academic purposes, created a quiz app called “thisismydigitallife,” and 270,000-plus Facebook users who used the app consented to give the app access to their own Facebook profiles, as well as their friends’.
Cambridge Analytica formed and reportedly paid $7 million for Kogan’s data, even though Kogan had an agreement with Facebook not to share the data for commercial purposes. Although Facebook didn’t publicly announce its discovery at the time, The Guardian reported on the breach in 2015, which prompted Facebook to demand that Kogan and Cambridge delete the data. Sources have claimed that Cambridge Analytica did not follow through with this request.
These revelations are especially controversial, given that Cambridge Analytica assisted Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and former Trump White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and GOP donor Robert Mercer were part owners of the company. It’s still not clear to what extent the Trump campaign utilized stolen Facebook data to construct messaging or target voters, but the fact that Facebook did not protect its users from a data breach of this magnitude, let alone that this data may have been used for political manipulation, has caused a major uproar.
That’s putting it lightly. Facebook was already under extreme scrutiny before this story surfaced, due to the spread of fake news on the platform and Russian interference via the social network in the 2016 U.S. general election. But early Monday morning, Facebook’s market capitalization began to tank. The company’s valuation declined by a whopping $50 billion in a matter of two days.
Zuckerberg’s four-day silence was conspicuous, but yesterday afternoon, he posted a 936-word statement to his Facebook page, then announced he would appear on CNN for an interview shortly. Interviews with Wired, The New York Times and Recode also published late yesterday.
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