Cambridge Analytica shuts down: How Facebook weathered the data theft storm

Cambridge Analytica’s London office | Photo: Reuters
British marketing analytics firm Cambridge Analytica on Wednesday announced that it, along with its parent firm SCL Elections Ltd, was shutting shop and would file for insolvency in Britain and the US. The firm's business took a hit after it emerged that the company had improperly obtained data of 87 million Facebook users on behalf of political clients, including, allegedly, the present US President Donald Trump.

Even as the data scandal led to the closure of Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has managed to duck the heat, thanks to its smart damage-control moves. Last week, the company posted better than expected first-quarter earnings, with a 49 per cent jump in revenue.

From Apology to launching new privacy tools, here's how Facebook weathered the data theft storm:

Mark Zuckerberg's apology: "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake," Zuckerberg said in written remark ahead of congressional hearings.

In the hearings too, the CEO took full responsibilty for failing to prevent Cambridge Analytica from gathering personal information from 87 million users to try to influence elections.

Zuckerberg fielded 10 hours of questions over two days from nearly 100 US lawmakers and emerged largely unscathed. 

He was successful in deflecting questions like a Washington veteran. Forty times the internet mogul told lawmakers he had no answers at hand and would get back to them later. About one in three lawmakers got that response over the two days.

'Clear History' privacy tool: At the recently concluded F8 developers' conference, Facebook announced plans to build a 'Clear History' privacy tool which will enable users to see the websites and apps that send information to Facebook when they use them.

Facebook said the tool will also enable the users to delete this information from their account, and turn off Facebook's ability to store it.

Zuckerberg's promise of action to stop abuse of Facebook services: Speaking at the F8 developers' conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised more steps to stop abuse of its services. He said the company was taking a broader view of its responsibility by not only giving people powerful tools, but also making sure those tools are used for good. 

Rollout of 'downvote' button: In a move to prevent misuse of Facebook to influence elections, the social media giant recently launched a feature called 'downvote' to enable users to express their disapproval for messages, photos and other contents their friends posted. 

The new feature is seen as a measure to prevent the triumph of falsehood on its platform.

Promise of a crackdown on false information: Facebook recently promised that all content will be carefully vetted to ensure that false information is not being disseminated to influence voters. It will also keep track of the money spent by Indian political parties on advertisements they post on the website.

Crackdown on third-party apps trying to steal data: In a recent post on its developers' page, Facebook said the new apps "created from today onwards will not have access to publish posts to Facebook as the logged in user".

The publish actions permission, according to Facebook, will be deprecated.

Announcement of plans to improve community standard guidelines: Facebook has said it will host a series of public events across various countries, including India, as part of its efforts to improve and refine its community standard guidelines.

It also said it will give users the right to appeal against decisions if the social media platform decides to remove photos, videos or posts deemed to be in violation of community standards.

New political ad transparency measures: Facebook's CTO recently said the company will introduce new measures to boost transparency around adverts in Britain by June this year and require political ads to be clearly labelled.

Introduction of new privacy updates for EU users: Facebook introduced new privacy updates for its users in Europe as part of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that will be effective from May 25.

Apart from seeking inputs from regulators and government officials, privacy experts and designers, Facebook brought together hundreds of employees across product, engineering, legal, policy, design and research teams to finalise new updates.

Clarifications on data collection: Days after the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light, Facebook tired to clarify on questions how it collects data when people are not directly using the website or app.

"Apps and websites that use our services, such as the Like button or Facebook Analytics, send us information to make their content and ads better," David Baser, Product Management Director at Facebook, wrote in a blog post.

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