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Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Responds To Cambridge Analytica Scandal


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has finally broken his silence. He issued a statement which he posted to his own Facebook page addressing the controversy over how an outside firm harvested the profiles of 50 million Facebook users.

Here to talk about what Zuckerberg said and how he said it in a carefully crafted statement is NPR tech correspondent Aarti Shahani. Aarti, thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So let's start with the what. What did Zuckerberg say?

SHAHANI: Well, he says there was a breach of trust between the company and its users. He says Facebook is going to investigate all apps that harvested large amounts of information about users around 2014. And that's when Facebook was pretty much wide open to sharing that kind of information. And by all apps he's talking about a lot of apps. I mean, we're talking about games like "Farmville," music services like Spotify, things you thought you may have stopped using like, you know, that old dating app or the food delivery service.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook is going to start limiting what another app can grab from your profile to only your name, your profile pic and email address. And if the app wants more, they'll have to jump through new hoops with Facebook as well as the user. And he says more changes are in the works, so stay tuned.

I would note Zuckerberg did not address the giant elephant in the room, you know, which is, why did Facebook have to learn from news outlets that Cambridge Analytica, the firm that harvested profiles, did not delete the data as promised? I mean, it makes no sense that Facebook would just take their word for it. But he didn't give an explanation for this failure on Facebook's part to properly audit.

MARTIN: So did Zuckerberg explain at all why his company didn't tell users?

SHAHANI: Well, no. You know, that's another question additionally, is that - you know, that's a question on the mind of Facebook employees as well. Yesterday the company held a live Q&A with staff - OK? - and an employee who told me about it was really disappointed, first of all, because Zuckerberg was not the one addressing the group. It was a lawyer to do it, Paul Grewal. He's the one who wrote the original blog post about the massive data breach. And he was being lawyerly.

A person asked, hey, if we, Facebook, knew about data being wrongfully taken, wasn't it our responsibility to tell victims? Isn't it their right to know? And, you know, the lawyer responded, Facebook's priorities were to investigate, to validate the claims, to handle data deletion. Basically it was a non-answer. The person who told me about it was totally frustrated, like come on, you know, don't give us these talking points. At least internally have an honest conversation about the very serious issue here.

MARTIN: Well, conversation seems like a key word here. So statements are one thing. But has any leader at Facebook had a conversation with the public?

SHAHANI: Well, Zuckerberg is scheduled to be on CNN tonight, presumably for a real interview, not a crafted statement. But the company has clearly discouraged other leaders from speaking, OK? In this controversy as well as another recent controversy, two different senior employees took to Twitter to share their views, and each one ended up having to retract or apologize. What's ironic about that, of course, is that Facebook is a social network. It's not a big bank or an Exxon Mobil. It's the company that built the technology that made oversharing - right? - not just sharing but oversharing the new normal.

So they want, you know, 2 billion-plus users to share away, but it's looking like, you know, they want their workforce to keep quiet. Not everyone at Facebook agrees with that, by the way. I've spoken with employees who feel that Facebook should be a different kind of company - more open, more transparent - given the nature of the product that they're building.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Aarti, very briefly, Facebook stock shares have been on a rollercoaster. Users are threatening to quit the app. Do you have any sense that these moves are going to calm things down?

SHAHANI: Well, certainly the moves are intended to calm things down, right? So much of the pressure on him to speak up is because of that financial instability around the company. But it seems like every few weeks there's a new Facebook controversy that's popping off, so I think that each new controversy gives us a different sense of what the bigger picture will end up being. But we're still in the process of understanding it. Is it a problem they can solve? Or is it a problem fundamental to their business model of selling people's data?

MARTIN: That's NPR's Aarti Shahani. Aarti, thank you.

SHAHANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.
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