Zuckerberg says sorry to Britons for breach of trust

Facebook chief takes out newspaper ads pledging to do better to protect users' info

Mark Zuckerberg

LONDON/MEXICO CITY • Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologised to Britons yesterday over a "breach of trust", taking out full-page advertisements in nine major British and US newspapers after a political consultancy got its hands on data on 50 million users.

"We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can't, we don't deserve it," said the ad, signed by Mr Zuckerberg.

The world's largest social media network is facing growing government scrutiny in Europe and the United States. This follows allegations by a whistle-blower that British consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed users' information to build profiles on American voters that were later used to help elect US President Donald Trump in 2016.

The ads ran in prominent positions in six British national papers, including the best-selling Mail on Sunday, The Sunday Times and The Observer - which helped break the story - as well as The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Mr Zuckerberg said an app built by a university researcher "leaked Facebook data of millions of people in 2014". "This was a breach of trust, and I'm sorry we didn't do more at the time," he said, reiterating an apology first made last week in US television interviews.

Cambridge Analytica said it initially believed the data had been obtained in line with data protection laws, and later deleted it at Facebook's request. The consultancy said it did not use the data in work it did for the 2016 US election.

Copies of The Observer with an advertisement paid by Facebook are arranged in a kiosk in London, Britain, on March 25, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Mr Zuckerberg, whose firm has lost more than US$50 billion (S$66 billion) in market value since the allegations broke, said Facebook would give users more information and control about who can access their data. "I promise to do better for you," he wrote.

Meanwhile, the British government will direct Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech firms to simplify their data management policies for consumers, reported The Sunday Times. Digital, Culture and Media Secretary Matt Hancock said the companies were failing to provide users with clear and concise terms and conditions for how personal data is used. His goal is to get the information onto one page.

Facebook's service agreement has over 3,700 words and Twitter's has 11,000 words. The government has summoned executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter to a meeting next month to discuss data management practices.

"People are bewildered by pages of unwieldy terms and conditions," Mr Hancock said. "I want these boiled right down so people can see in one glance what they're signing up to. I want the big platforms to answer questions and demonstrate they are willing to change."

Separately, Mexico's National Electoral Institute (INE) has signed deals with Facebook and Twitter - and is due to sign another with Google - to fight fake news on the Web as the country prepares for its July 1 presidential election.

"We are going to ask all the social networks to let us publish official information" on their platforms, said INE board member Enrique Andrade. That includes broadcasts of the three presidential debates and live election results.

Facebook, Twitter and Google are also partners on a project called #Verificado2018, an alliance of 60 Mexican media outlets, universities and non-profit groups launched to check facts and flag false information about the race.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline Zuckerberg says sorry to Britons for breach of trust. Subscribe