CEO Zucker­berg apologizes for Face­book’s pri­vacy fail­ures

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WASH­ING­TON (AP) — Un­der fire for the worst pri­vacy de­ba­cle in his com­pany’s his­tory, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg bat­ted away of­te­nag­gres­sive ques­tion­ing from law­mak­ers who ac­cused him of fail­ing to pro­tect the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans from Rus­sians in­tent on up­set­ting the U.S. elec­tion.

Dur­ing some five hours of Se­nate ques­tion­ing Tues­day, Zucker­berg apol­o­gized sev­eral times for Face­book fail­ures, dis­closed that his com­pany was “work­ing with” spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller in the fed­eral probe of Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and said it was work­ing hard to change its own op­er­a­tions af­ter the har­vest­ing of users’ pri­vate data by a data-min­ing com­pany af­fil­i­ated with Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign.

Seem­ingly unim­pressed, Repub­li­can Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Zucker­berg’s com­pany had a 14-year his­tory of apol­o­giz­ing for “ill-ad­vised de­ci­sions” re­lated to user pri­vacy. “How is to­day’s apol­ogy dif­fer­ent?” Thune asked.

“We have made a lot of mis­takes in run­ning the com­pany,” Zucker­berg con­ceded, and Face­book must work harder at en­sur­ing the tools it cre­ates are used in “good and healthy” ways.

The con­tro­versy has brought a flood of bad pub­lic­ity and sent the com­pany’s stock value plung­ing, but Zucker­berg seemed to achieve a mea­sure of suc­cess in coun­ter­ing that: Face­book shares surged 4.5 per­cent for the day, the big­gest gain in two years.

In all, he skated largely un­harmed through his first day of con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony. He’ll face House ques­tion­ers Wed­nes­day.

The 33-year-old founder of the world’s best-known so­cial me­dia gi­ant ap­peared in a suit and tie, a de­par­ture from the T-shirt he’s fa­mous for wear­ing in pub­lic as well as in pri­vate. Even so, his youth cast a sharp con­trast with his of­ten-el­derly, gray-haired Se­nate in­quisi­tors. And the enor­mous com­plex­ity of the so­cial net­work he cre­ated at times de­feated the at­tempts of leg­is­la­tors to ham­mer him on Face­book’s spe­cific fail­ures and how to fix them.

The stakes are high for both Zucker­berg and his com­pany. Face­book has been reel­ing from its worstever pri­vacy fail­ure fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions last month that the po­lit­i­cal data-min­ing firm Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, which was af­fil­i­ated with Trump’s 2016 cam­paign, im­prop­erly scooped up data on some 87 mil­lion users. Zucker­berg has been on an apol­ogy tour for most of the past two weeks, cul­mi­nat­ing in his con­gres­sional ap­pear­ance Tues­day.

Although shaky at times, Zucker­berg seemed to gain con­fi­dence as the day pro­gressed. An iconic fig­ure as a bil­lion­aire en­trepreneur who changed the way peo­ple around the world re­late to each other, he made a point of re­peat­edly re­fer­ring back to the Har­vard dorm room where he said Face­book was brought to life.

At times, he showed plenty of steel. Af­ter ag­gres­sive ques­tion­ing about Face­book’s al­leged po­lit­i­cal bias from Sen. Ted Cruz, for in­stance, Zucker­berg was asked if he was ready to take a break.

No need. “That was pretty good,” he said of the ex­change with Cruz.

For the most part, his care­ful but gen­er­ally straight­for­ward an­swers, steeped in the some­times ar­cane de­tails of Face­book’s un­der­ly­ing func­tions, of­ten de­flected ag­gres­sive ques­tion­ing. When the go­ing got tough, Zucker­berg was able to fall back on: “Our team should fol­low up with you on that, Sen­a­tor.”

As a re­sult, he found it rel­a­tively easy to re­turn to fa­mil­iar talk­ing points: Face­book made mis­takes, he and his ex­ec­u­tives are very sorry, and they’re work­ing very hard to cor­rect the prob­lems and safe­guard the users’ data.

As for the fed­eral Rus­sia probe that has oc­cu­pied much of Wash­ing­ton’s at­ten­tion for months, he said he had not been in­ter­viewed by spe­cial coun­sel Mueller’s team, but “I know we’re work­ing with them.” He of­fered no de­tails, cit­ing a con­cern about con­fi­den­tial­ity rules of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ear­lier this year Mueller charged 13 Rus­sian in­di­vid­u­als and three Rus­sian com­pa­nies in a plot to in­ter­fere in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion through a so­cial me­dia pro­pa­ganda ef­fort that in­cluded on­line ad pur­chases us­ing U.S. aliases and pol­i­tick­ing on U.S. soil. A num­ber of the Rus­sian ads were on Face­book.

Much of the ef­fort was aimed at den­i­grat­ing Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and thereby help­ing Repub­li­can Trump, or sim­ply en­cour­ag­ing di­vi­sive­ness and un­der­cut­ting faith in the U.S. sys­tem.

Zucker­berg said Face­book had been led to be­lieve Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica had deleted the user data it had har­vested and that had been “clearly a mis­take.” He said Face­book had con­sid­ered the data col­lec­tion “a closed case” and had not alerted the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion. He as­sured sen­a­tors the com­pany would han­dle the sit­u­a­tion dif­fer­ently to­day.

Sep­a­rately, the com­pany be­gan alert­ing some of its users that their data was gath­ered by Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica. A no­ti­fi­ca­tion that ap­peared on Face­book for some users Tues­day told them that “one of your friends” used Face­book to log into a now­banned per­son­al­ity quiz app called “This Is Your Dig­i­tal Life.” The no­tice says the app mis­used the in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing pub­lic pro­files, page likes, birth­days and cur­rent cities, by shar­ing it with Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica.

In the hear­ings, Zucker­berg is try­ing to both re­store pub­lic trust in his com­pany and stave off fed­eral reg­u­la­tions that some law­mak­ers have floated.

Demo­crat Bill Nel­son of Florida said he be­lieves Zucker­berg was tak­ing the con­gres­sional hear­ings se­ri­ously “be­cause he knows there is go­ing to be a hard look at reg­u­la­tion.”

Repub­li­cans have yet to get be­hind any leg­is­la­tion, but that could change.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., asked Zucker­berg if he would be will­ing to work with law­mak­ers to ex­am­ine what “reg­u­la­tions you think are nec­es­sary in your in­dus­try.”

Ab­so­lutely, Zucker­berg re­sponded, say­ing later in an ex­change with Sen. Dan Sul­li­van, R-Alaska, that “I’m not the type of per­son who thinks that all reg­u­la­tion is bad.”

Ahead of the hear­ing, John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Repub­li­can in the Se­nate, said, “This is a se­ri­ous mat­ter, and I think peo­ple ex­pect us to take ac­tion.”

At the hear­ing, Zucker­berg said: “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our re­spon­si­bil­ity, and that was a big mis­take. It was my mis­take, and I’m sorry. I started Face­book, I run it, and I’m re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pens here.”

He out­lined steps the com­pany has taken to re­strict out­siders’ ac­cess to peo­ple’s per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. He also said the com­pany is in­ves­ti­gat­ing ev­ery app that had ac­cess to a large amount of in­for­ma­tion be­fore the com­pany moved to pre­vent such ac­cess in 2014 — ac­tions that came too late in the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica case.

Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg ar­rives to tes­tify be­fore a joint hear­ing of the Com­merce and Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tees on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, Tues­day, April 10, 2018, about the use of Face­book data to tar­get Amer­i­can vot­ers in the 2016 elec­tion. (AP Photo)

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