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Will ensure no one interferes in Indian elections: Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook founder said they had deployed new artificial intelligence tools that do a better job identifying fake accounts. This is intended to help prevent elections interference by foreign actors.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2018 12:30 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Zuckerberg,Zuckerberg on india,Indian elections
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) speaks with Senator John Thune (C), R-SD, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R), R-IA following a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC.(AFP Photo)

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday apologised publicly for the social network’s misuse of its members’ data during a congressional hearing and said he will ensure his company was not used for interfering in the upcoming elections in the US, India, Brazil and other countries.

Testifying at a joint hearing of US senate’s judiciary and commerce committees that lasted around five hours, Zuckerberg sounded contrite about mistakes, owning up to them personally, as he sought to assure lawmakers, some of whom appeared clearly sceptical, they won’t be repeated.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” the 33-year-old said.

Zuckerberg addressed questions raised on a broad range of issues from its use of personal data from subscribers in the light of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, manipulation of media network by Russians to interfere in the 2016 elections, to the sheer size of the company and the need for regulation.

“The most important thing that I care about right now is making sure that no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world,” Zuckerberg said in reply to question about the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal and how Facebook planned to prevent a repeat.

“We have an extremely important US mid-term, we have major elections in India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Hungary coming up,” he said referring to mid-term Congressional elections in November in the US and general elections in India due in 2019.

Zuckerberg made that point about protecting the integrity of elections around the world — repeating the list of India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan and Hungary — twice during the testimony, stressing the global nature of his company.

Most of Facebook’s two billion users, he reminded a senator, were outside the US. There are 217 million users in India.

The social media giant has been battling its worst crisis yet after it was reported in March that Cambridge Analytica, a London-based political consultancy, had used personal data of Facebook subscribers inappropriately harvested and sold to it by Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer, for the Trump campaign.

Facebook said data of some 50 million users had been used by the firm but subsequently revised that number to 87 million, most of whom were in the US. It also admitted for the first time that 562,455 users from India were among those impacted.

Zuckerberg also outlined the steps his company has taken to restrict outsiders’ access to people’s personal information. He also said the company is investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information before the company moved to prevent such access in 2014 — actions that came too late in the Cambridge Analytica case.

He added that Facebook will take a number of measures to that end from “building and deploying new AI tools that take down fake news to growing our security team to more than 20,000 people to … verify every advertiser who is doing political and issue ads to make sure that that the kind of interference Russians were able to do in 2016 is much harder to pull off in the future”.

It’s still not clear if Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Limited, which have worked extensively in India, had ever used Facebook data during elections.

Dressed in a navy suit and a blue tie instead of his trademark T-shirt and jeans, Zuckerberg handled his first congressional hearing with confidence and poise — Facebook stocks spiked 4.5% as he spoke, noted The Street, a financial news and services website — as he sought to convince lawmakers sceptical of his reassurances.

“I think it’s pretty much impossible, I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we’re at now without making some mistakes,” Zuckerberg said as lawmakers grilled him about his past mistakes and apologies.

He contended that while growing the company, which he described as “idealistic and optimistic”, the focus had been on “all the good that connecting people can bring”, but not enough attention was paid to preventing these tools from being used to do harm.

“That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy,” he said in his opening remarks, copies of which had been circulated in advance of the testimony.

Zuckerberg, however, managed to deflect any specific promises to support any congressional regulation of the world’s largest social media network and other US internet companies.

“I’ll have my team follow up with you so that way we can have this discussion across the different categories where I think this discussion needs to happen,” Zuckerberg said when asked what regulations he thought were necessary.

Facebook also began alerting users that their data was gathered by Cambridge Analytica. A notification that appeared on Facebook for some users Tuesday told them that “one of your friends” used Facebook to log into a now-banned personality quiz app called “This Is Your Digital Life.”

The notice says the app misused the information, including public profiles, page likes, birthdays and current cities, by sharing it with Cambridge Analytica.

After resisting previous calls to testify, Zuckerberg agreed to come to Capitol Hill this month after reports surfaced — and the company confirmed — that Cambridge Analytica had gathered Facebook users’ data. Zuckerberg said his company has a responsibility to make sure what happened with Cambridge Analytica doesn’t happen again.

Zuckerberg is also expected to be asked about Russia’s use of US social media during the 2016 elections — a subject of several congressional investigations and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference.

He returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for another round of grilling by a committee of the House of Representatives.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Apr 11, 2018 09:13 IST