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Facebook Co-Founder Says It’s ‘Shocking’ the Company Didn’t Have to Address Privacy Problems Earlier

April 10, 2018, 11:26 AM UTC

While Facebook CEO was preparing for his appearance before Congress over the Cambridge Analytica and “fake news” scandals, the company’s co-founder has been wondering out loud why it took so long for Facebook’s data-sharing practices to catch up with it.

Chris Hughes, who worked with Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz in Facebook’s earliest days, said at a Financial Times event that he found it “shocking…that they didn’t have to answer more of these questions earlier on.”

Cambridge Analytica, a right-leaning political consultancy based in the U.K., reportedly got its hands on the personal data of as many as 87 million Facebook users, via a University of Cambridge academic called Aleksandr Kogan, who harvested the information through a “personality quiz” app on the platform.

Kogan’s app was used by a relatively small number of Facebook users—around 300,000—but, at the time in 2014, Facebook allowed third-party app developers to scoop up the data not only of those who used their apps, but all those people’s friends as well. In New Zealand, only 10 people used the app, but Facebook said Tuesday that they exposed the data of over 63,000 people in that country.

Facebook removed that capability from third-party apps in 2015, following criticism over its privacy implications. But by that time, many app developers had been able scrape extensive data that they may still have.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg claimed last week that the company “did not think enough about the abuse cases” that could arise from its lax privacy settings, because it was “way too idealistic.”

“The idea that this was unforeseeable seems like a stretch,” Hughes said at the FT event. “The public reckoning now is very much overdue.”

Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony for his appearance before the House’s energy and commerce committee, states that Facebook is “in the process of investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information before we locked down our platform in 2014.”

“If we detect suspicious activity, we’ll do a full forensic audit,” Zuckerberg will say. “And if we find that someone is improperly using data, we’ll ban them and tell everyone affected.”

The problem with the modern data economy is that no amount of action by Facebook (FB) now will effectively retrieve and contain the information that is already out there. Many of those app developers will have sold the data on to brokers and other third parties, and indeed some of those startups will have sold themselves in the interim period, with the data they held being one of their most saleable assets.