Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has apologised to US lawmakers for the leak of personal data on tens of millions of users as he faced a day of reckoning before a Congress mulling regulation of the global social media giant.
In his first-ever US congressional appearance, the Facebook founder and chief executive sought to quell the storm over privacy and security lapses at the social network that have angered lawmakers and Facebook’s two billion users.
Swappping his customary tee-shirt for a business suit and tie, Zuckerberg faced tough questions over how a US-British political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, plundered detailed personal data on 87 million users to be used in the 2016 US presidential election.
Facebook also became the platform of choice for a stunning Russian campaign of online misinformation that US intelligence says was designed to tilt the 2016 vote toward Donald Trump.
“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg said in prepared testimony.
“I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm,” he said.
“That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
Lawmakers questioned whether the election meddling and poor controls on personal data requires the government to step in to regulate Facebook and other social media companies which generate revenue from user data.
Testifying was a new step forward for the 33-year-old Zuckerberg, who started Facebook as a Harvard dropout in 2004, and built it into the world’s largest social media company worth $470 billion.
In the past he has left it to top lieutenants to answer questions from legislators.
But after the largest scandal yet for Facebook, Zuckerberg has seen it as imperative to speak out himself and try to prevent the company from bogging down in questions about its core business model, which is to share user data with advertisers.
According to AFP, the lawmakers delivered plenty of warnings that Zuckerberg needs to take action — though they were thin on concrete proposals.
“If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore,” said Senator Bill Nelson.
Zuckerberg called Facebook “an idealistic and optimistic company” and said: “We focused on all the good that connecting people can bring.”
But he acknowledged that “it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”
Zuckerberg added: “I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profit.”
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