Facebook Today: Number of Users Hit by Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal Rises to 87 Million | ToS & Data Policy Rewritten | Zuckerberg Conference Call

Rafia Shaikh
facebook memo

[Update] Revelations from Zuckerberg's conference call

The social networking behemoth continues to make efforts that make it look like it's changing its ways and turning Facebook into a more privacy-focused platform. In a stream of such efforts, the company announced today that it has rewritten its terms of service and data policies to better explain what data it is collecting about you. This is, however, not a new data policy as it simply rewords the previous terms of service to "spell out" Facebook’s old practices as explained by the company itself.

"We explain the services we offer in language that’s easier to read," Erin Egan, VP and Chief Privacy Officer, and Ashlie Beringer, VP and Deputy General Counsel wrote in an accompanying blog post. "We’re also updating our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it in Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and other products."

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You can access the updated terms of service here and data policy here.

Now, the big news: number of impacted users goes from 50 million to 87 million (mostly Americans)

In another blog post published by the company's Chief Technology Officer, Mike Schroepfer, the company revealed - or rather buried - that it believes information of nearly 87 million people may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica

In total, we believe the Facebook information of up to 87 million people - mostly in the US - may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

For those who haven't been following the story, a UK-based researcher used an app that was downloaded by only 270,000 users to collect data of tens of millions of users. The original number of Facebook users whose data was believed to have been harvested through this app by Cambridge Analytica (more details here) was reported to be 50 million.

The blog post in which this massive detail was hidden inside was about the steps the company has taken to restrict data exposure to third party app developers. From Events API to Groups and Pages APIs, the company is limiting what kind of data app developers can get access to and in some cases, this access requires Facebook's approval.

Only a single line at the near-end of the post talks about the number of users that the company believes is affected by Cambridge Analytica data "theft" that Facebook kept under the wraps for years and also decided not to alert affected users about. [Update: Facebook has now added the following graph]

The company will start alerting users on Monday, April 9 if they are one of the users affected by Cambridge Analytica data scandal two years after Facebook first learned about the incident.

More from Facebook: refusal to offer GDPR privacy protections outside of EU

As the Silicon Valley tech giant continues to take steps that are worded in a strong language, users can't stop but wonder how much of these changes affect the company itself. So far, app developers and advertisers have been restricted by the company. However, its own data collection practices remain largely the same.

When asked if the company will offer GDPR-style privacy protections outside of Europe that require the companies to receive informed user consent before they tap on "agree" buttons, Mark Zuckerberg said that they will be offered "in spirit."

Illustration: Khylin Woodrow, Bloomberg

Among other privacy changes that it has been rolling out in the past two weeks, Facebook had also delivered a new way to bulk-remove apps yesterday.

While the company is scrambling to get out of this scandal unscathed using a massive PR campaign, it also continues to be at the center of several more such scandals and concerns that reinforce the company's disregard for its userbase. Earlier today, a Bloomberg report revealed that the company has confirmed scanning ALL of the private Facebook Messenger chats in order to spot content that doesn't follow Facebook's community standards.

[Update]: Live updates from Zuckerberg's conference call

Ahead of his testimony in Washington next week, the 33-year-old billionaire is hustling to respond to concerns and deliver privacy changes that he could use at the hearing. While his statement on GDPR rules had made it look like Zuckerberg hasn't learned anything from this scandal (mainly due to the platform's monopoly in the industry), the company CEO has denied the Reuters story.

Zuckerberg said that "we intend to make all the controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe."

In a conference call held today to respond to queries and concerns, Zuckerberg acknowledged the key concerns that the company is facing right now. "Can we get our systems under control and second, can we make sure that our systems aren't used to undermine democracy," he said. "It's not enough to give people a voice, we have to make sure that people are not using that voice to spread disinformation." Zuckerberg added that the company has to "ensure that everyone in our ecosystem protects people's information."

While everyone is worried about a company taking data of 87 million Facebook users, it turns out everyone may have had their data exposed at some point in the last few years according to the chief himself.

When asked if he should be leading Facebook after all the disasters, Zuckerberg said "yes."

I think life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward. A lot of times people ask, “What are the mistakes you made early on, starting the company, or what would you try to do differently?” The reality of a lot of this is that when you are building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things that you mess up. And if we had gotten this right, we would have messed something else up.

When asked if anyone has been fired related to the Cambridge Analytica issue, he responded that "I’m not looking to throw anyone else under the bus for mistakes that we’ve made here."

Ending his conference, Zuckerberg said that the problems won't be fixed in a few weeks or months and will take a multi-year effort.

"I wish that I could snap my fingers and in three or six months have solved all of these issues," Zuck said. "But I just think the reality is, given how complex Facebook is and how many systems there we need to rethink our relationship with people and our responsibility there across every single part of what we do. I do think this is a multi-year effort."

In the story stream: check out our full coverage of Cambridge Analytica data scandal

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