In case you live under a rock, Facebook has been under a lot of fire. Like, A LOT. Back in March, it was revealed that data firm Cambridge Analytica collected private information from over 87 million Facebook users through an outside researcher who told Facebook they were using it for academic purposes. As it turns out, Cambridge Analytica used those findings to identify American voter personality traits in order to create content and advertisements to influence their behavior.
This has been the biggest breach that Facebook has ever had to experience in their history and people were not happy. In fact, a whole campaign and hashtag #DeleteFacebook started up once news of the breach went mainstream. Naturally, people wanted answers. How could something like this happen? Did Facebook know about the breach? Why were there not more protections put in place? Well, after weeks and weeks of mounting pressure, Mark Zuckerberg finally agreed to stand in front of Congress and answer some of those questions. After two days and 10 collective hours of questioning, here are our biggest takeaways.
1. The Facebook Data Model
One of the most common misconceptions with Facebook data is that user information is sold to advertisers. Zuckerberg was quick to clear this up by explaining that Facebook does indeed store user data, but it does not sell that information to potential advertisers. Instead, advertisers tell Facebook what kind of people they want to reach based off certain demographic and psychographic parameters, and then Facebook does the placement. That way the data stays with Facebook.
However, when asked if Aleksander Kogan – the Cambridge University neuroscientist who created the app ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ which harvested the data that was then passed on to Cambridge Analytica – sold the Facebook data to anyone other than Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg admitted that yes, he had. Now, with most apps on Facebook you must give consent for that app to access your profile information, so the fact that Kogan even had access to the data isn’t what’s shocking. The kicker was that once a user consented, that made the app able to access the personal information of all their Facebook friends as well. Thus, gaining access to millions and millions of private data.
Now, you may be scratching your head thinking “but you just said that the data stays with Facebook. How could this guy get his hands on such sensitive information?” According to Zuckerberg, Kogan obtained access fraudulently by claiming to need the data for academic purposes, which we know today to be untrue.
2. What Exactly is Facebook?
While Zuckerberg lived out our worst nightmares of explaining to a room full of out-of-touch senators how Facebook works, one question did stand out – are they a publisher or a tech company? He explained that while yes, Facebook does publish content, they do not actually produce the content that is shared on the platform. So, basically, they are a tech company with engineers that build a product for consumers to access for free.
3. He’s Sorry. (Like, Really, Really Sorry)
Throughout the collective 10 hours of questioning, Zuckerberg made it very clear that he takes full responsibility for what happened. He admits that as the creator of Facebook, he should have paid closer attention and put more preventative measures in place so that things like this couldn’t happen. This even stems as far as the fake news epidemic that plagued the Social Network right when the election was getting underway. As part of the “I’m Sorry World Tour,” Facebook has also launched a huge PR campaign called “Here Together” which plays on the nostalgia factor showing users what Facebook used to be like before things took a turn. To be honest, it works. It recognizes its downfall and promises to do better, which is all anyone can really ask for.
4. No One Seems To Be Bothered
Lastly, if there’s anything that we have learned from all of this is that at the end of the day, people and advertisers are still going to use Facebook. While yes, what happened was terrible and the Social Network will have to do a lot to fully gain everyone’s trust back, advertising revenue was up almost 50% year over year and both daily and monthly users increased. The initial outrage was real, but no matter what, people need their social media fix.
So, there you have it. The VIRGEN | Digital Brand Marketing breakdown of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in Congress. Can Facebook be trusted again? Only time will tell.