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What is the real future of Facebook?

Following up from our article about the Cambridge Analytica investigation in our last issue, there have been several developments in the case since.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, appeared before Congress on Tuesday 10th April for his testimony for the Cambridge Analytica data breach.

Facebook’s privacy policies were under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission over reports of the company’s illicit harvesting of users’ personal data. The agency is looking into whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 settlement to enhance its privacy policies so that third parties cannot acquire data from Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

Revelations in the Observer show that Cambridge Analytica (CA) who worked with Donald Trump’s election team as well as the winning Brexit campaign, harvested millions of US voter’s Facebook profiles. The data gathered was used to create a software programme that aids to predict and influence voting choices, through micro-targeted ads.

Zuckerberg answered questions from the senate commerce and judiciary committees on regulations, privacy, Cambridge Analytica and data mining in an incredible 5-hour long hearing. Here are the key moments from the hearing.

Senator Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg: “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”

To which Zuckerberg nervously laughed and replied, “Erm, no.”

And again, he was asked, “If you’ve messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?”

“Senator no, I would probably not choose to do it publicly here.”

The Senator then stated: “I think that maybe what this is all about. Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in “connecting people around the world.”

On privacy, Zuckerberg had said this:

“I believe it’s important to tell people exactly how the information that they share on Facebook is going to be used.

“That’s why, every single time you go to share something on Facebook, whether it’s a photo in Facebook, or a message, every single time, there’s a control right there about who you’re going to be sharing it with ... and you can change that and control that in line.

“To your broader point about the privacy policy ... long privacy policies are very confusing. And if you make it long and spell out all the detail, then you’re probably going to reduce the per cent of people who read it and make it accessible to them.”

On selling and storing data, he said: ““Yes, we store data ... some of that content with people’s permission.”

“There’s a very common misconception that we sell data to advertisers. We do not sell data to advertisers.”

“What we allow is for advertisers to tell us who they want to reach, and then we do the placement … That’s a very fundamental part of how our model works and something that is often misunderstood.”

Zuckerberg also confirmed that Cambridge University’s neuroscientist, Aleksandr Kogan, had sold Facebook data to other companies as well as Cambridge Analytica.

One of his greatest regrets was being slow to identify the Russian information operations in 2016.

“We have kicked off an investigation … I imagine we’ll find some things.

“There are people in Russia whose job it is to try to exploit our systems and other internet systems and other systems as well.

“This is an ongoing arms race. As long as there are people sitting in Russia whose job is it to try to interfere in elections around the world, this is going to be an ongoing conflict.”

Despite stating that Cambridge Analytica weren’t using Facebook’s services in 2015, they weren’t running pages so there was nothing to ban, Zuckerberg corrected himself later on in the hearing.

“I want to correct one thing that I said earlier in response to a question … [on] why we didn’t ban Cambridge Analytica at the time when we learned about them in 2015.

“[From] what my understanding was ... they were not on the platform, [they] were not an app developer or advertiser. When I went back and met with my team afterwards, they let me know that Cambridge Analytica actually did start as an advertiser later in 2015.

“So we could have in theory banned them then. We made a mistake by not doing so. But I just wanted to make sure that I updated that because I ... I ... I misspoke, or got that wrong earlier.

“When we heard back from Cambridge Analytica that they had told us that they weren’t using the data and deleted it, we considered it a closed case. In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.”

In more recent news, the UK Parliament has given Facebook an impressive ultimatum in attempt to get Mark Zuckerberg to answer their questions. They have threatened him with a formal summons the next time he flies to the UK unless he comes and answers their questions voluntarily.

The last time British lawmakers asked Zuckerberg to appear before them was in March, to which he declined.

In an open letter addressed to Rebecca Stimson, head of Public Policy for Facebook in the UK, Damian Collins, a lawmaker who chairs the UK parliament's media committee, lays out the UK’s disappointment:

Thank you for helping to arrange Mike Schroepfer’s appearance in front of the Committee yesterday. As you may have seen from my press statement, the Committee feels that the evidence lacked many of the important details that we need. We therefore re-state our invitation to Mark Zuckerberg. Following reports that he will be giving evidence to the European Parliament in May, we would like Mr Zuckerberg to come to London during his European trip. We would like the session here to take place by 24 May.

It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country. We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but if not the Committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK

Mr Schroepfer failed to answer fully on nearly 40 separate points. This is especially disappointing to the Committee considering that in his testimony to Congress Mark Zuckerberg also failed to give convincing answers to some questions. Mr Schroepfer agreed that his team would follow up on the questions included below. For clarity, we include a list of the questions below, and attach a transcript of yesterday’s session to this letter. We would like the replies by 11 May so that we can factor the answers into planning for the evidence we hope to take from Mr Zuckerberg a fortnight later.

As I said yesterday, there are over 40 million Facebook users in the UK and they deserve to hear accurate answers from the company he created and whether it is able to keep their users’ data safe. We look forward to receiving your answers by 11 May. We would like confirmation of Mr Zuckerberg’s attendance by the same date.

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