Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will take a series of measures to ensure that the social media platform won’t be misused to influence elections this year in India and elsewhere.
“This is a massive focus for us to make sure we’re dialed in for not only the 2018 elections in the US, but the Indian elections, the Brazilian elections, and a number of other elections that are going on this year that are really important,” Zuckerberg, 33, said in an interview to the New York Times. India will hold several key state polls this year ahead of general elections in 2019.
Zuckerberg also apologised to users for allowing political-advertising firm Cambridge Analytica to gain access to the personal data of 50 million Facebook members without their knowledge.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of India is said to have begun examining the facts that have come to light in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica case to determine whether it needs to investigate if there was any interference in the electoral process.
Union minister for electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad has alleged that the firm had an association with the Congress party and that it was possibly used for the Gujarat elections. Congress has denied the accusation, saying in turn that it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that had links with the firm through JDU leader KC Tyagi’s son Amrish Tyagi, who represented the firm in India. BJP is in coalition with JDU in Bihar.
Tyagi said on Thursday that his son hadn’t got any help from Cambridge Analytica. Congress said the firm wasn’t hired by the party or its chief Rahul Gandhi, who said the government was using the controversy as a diversionary tactic.
The government was ready to launch an enquiry to see if Facebook had any role to play in unfairly influencing elections in the country and if required will summon Zuckerberg for an explanation, Prasad told ET in an interview on Wednesday. He warned social media companies of stringent actions if there was any attempt to influence the electoral process.
Micro-voter targeting, the main service provided by Cambridge Analytica, was not used by the BJP in the 2014 general election. But some other services, offered by Indian affiliate Ovleno Business Intelligence (OBI), were used by it in two state assembly elections later that year, senior party sources told ET.
“I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Zuckerberg wrote in the 940-word post on his Facebook profile page. “I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.” He said key steps had been taken in 2014 to prevent “bad actors from accessing people’s information in this way.” He then outlined the measures that the social media giant will adopt.
“We will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity,” he said. “We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit… We’re going to review thousands of apps.” Developers that have misused personally identifiable information will be banned and those affected will be informed.
“That includes people whose data Kogan misused here as well,” he said, referring to researcher Aleksandr Kogan who passed on the 50 million users’ data that he’d obtained to Cambridge Analytica.
Developers’ data access will be restricted even further to prevent other kinds of abuse. “For example, we will remove developers’ access to your data if you haven’t used their app in three months. We will reduce the data you give an app when you sign in — to only your name, profile photo, and email address,” he said. “We’ll require developers to not only get approval but also sign a contract in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data.” Further changes will be made in the next few days, he said.
Facebook will soon allow users to see the apps being used and an easier option to revoke their access to data. “We already have a tool to do this in your privacy settings, and now we will put this tool at the top of your News Feed to make sure everyone sees it,” he said.
The scandal erupted after a whistleblower revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to Trump’s 2016 campaign, accessed personal data from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge, and might have kept the information even after being told to delete it. Cambridge Analytica created psychological profiles on the 50 million Facebook users via a personality prediction app created by Kogan.
Zuckerberg said he wanted to increase data protection at Facebook by hiring more people and not just deploying artificial intelligence.
AI can do, we can train classifiers to identify content, but most of what we do is identify things that people should look at,” he told the NYT. “So we’re going to double the amount of people working on security this year. We’ll have more than 20,000 people working on security and community operations by the end of the year, I think we have about 15,000 now.”
In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg said the company had made mistakes. “I started Facebook, and at the end of the day, I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community,” he said. Zuckerberg said Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data and if it fails, “we don’t deserve to serve you”.
Zuckerberg said Facebook plans to alert everyone whose data was accessed by Cambridge Analytica. But he added that the company shouldn’t have not waited this long to tell people what happened.
“That’s definitely something that, looking back on this, I regret that we didn’t do at the time,” he told CNN. “I think we got that wrong… I started this when I was so young and inexperienced. I made technical errors and business errors. I hired the wrong people. I trusted the wrong people.”
Over the past few days, Facebook has been faced with an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and calls for legislative testimony in the US and Europe.