Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg seem increasingly worried about the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica data-scraping scandal, which has put a renewed focus on the terrifying amount of info it has accumulated on its users, and specifically how doling all that information out to third parties for profit is its real business model. The company’s stock has fallen 13 per cent, even as it’s launched a PR offensive including a series of rare Zuckerberg interview on CNN and elsewhere.
Still, it’s somewhat surprising to see Facebook begging for forgiveness with full-page ads in major newspapers. That’s what it did on Sunday in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal in the US as well as seven British newspapers, per the Verge.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 25, 2018
In what is probably one of the more accurate statements to come from the company, Zuckerberg wrote, “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”
The rest of the statement is a good bit more questionable. Zuckerberg explicitly avoided any mention of the increasingly toxic name “Cambridge Analytica,” focusing instead on the “quiz app built by a university researcher” that they partnered with to gain the information. While he apologised for letting an app run off with the data of (allegedly) 50 million users in the first place, and said that an investigation into every other app that had the same permissions is ongoing, this quote in particular is not very reassuring:
We expect there are others. And when we find them, we will ban them and tell everyone affected.
Thank you for believing in this community. I promise to do better for you.
This is somewhat of a shift in tone from his Facebook posts or CNN and Wired interviews, where Zuckerberg said that the company wasn’t sure whether there could be other Cambridge Analytica-style situations out there, and suggests that the company has already stumbled across evidence indicating other incidents are probable. In other words: Uh oh. While Facebook may indeed be able to weather this storm in isolation, it’s an open question whether knowledge the company has already handed off such huge troves of user data has exhausted the public’s outrage reserves or revelations of additional prior incidents would make people angrier and angrier.
It’s not the first time in very recent memory that Facebook and crew have tried to rent some credibility by landing ads in the pages of major newspapers. The company recently took out other ads in Mexican papers warning about “fake news” before the country’s elections later this year.