Cambridge Analytica saga had no 'meaningful impact' on advertisers, says Zuckerberg

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 5 April 2018
Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will not be stepping down amidst the Cambridge Analytica scandal, will take legal action against the data company if required, and says Facebook wants to kick the notion that people thinks it sells data to advertisers. 

Since the data scandal broke earlier this year, the top boss said users and advertisers had also not really stepped away from the platform.

He also admitted the social media company does not yet know how much data has been retained by Cambridge Analytica and Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan, who created an app to harvest user information.

AdNews joined a global press call this morning with the CEO, which follows a blog post from the platform admitting that up to 87 million Facebook user details may have been compromised, not the 50 million initially touted by other parties. More than 300,000 Australians are included in the numbers.

See: How Cambridge Analytica harvested 60m Facebook profiles to influence the US election

During the call Zuckerberg said he was still very much in charge, was the best person for job, plans were not afoot for his removal and he was not aware of any board discussions regarding whether he should step down. 

“Life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring what you need to do to move forward,” Zuckerberg said. 

“When you are building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things that you mess up. If we’d gotten this right, we would’ve messed something else up.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be perfect, but what people should hold us accountable for is learning from the mistakes, continually doing better and continuing to evolve what our view of our responsibility is.”

He said he has not fired anyone due to the Cambridge Analytica incident, but they are still looking into this.

“At the end of the day this is my responsibility,” he explained.

“I started this place, I run it, I am responsible for what happens here and I am still going to do the best job helping to run it going forward. I am not looking to throw anyone under the bus for mistakes we have made here.”

See: Brands boycott Facebook amidst Cambridge scandal

Scandal had no meaningful impact on business

Zuckerberg said since the data scandal broke earlier this year, it had not had any “meaningful impact” in relation to users and advertisers pulling back from the platform.

“I don’t want anyone to be unhappy with our services or what we do as company so even if we can’t really measure change in the usage of the product or business, it still speaks to people feeling like this is a massive breach of trust and we have a lot of work to do to repair that,” he said.

Despite revealing the 87 million figure, Zuckerberg said that isn’t 100% accurate and is the ‘maximum'. It wanted to take a broad view and make a conservative yet confident estimate, which could actually be less than 87 million.

“We don't actually know how many people’s information Kogan got, we don’t know what he sold to Cambridge Analytica and we don’t know today what they have on their systems,” he said.

While Facebook plans on carrying out a full forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica’s systems to get those answers, he said it has had to “stand down temporarily” while the UK government’s Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) carries out its investigation first.

Once it resumes its investigation, Facebook could resort to legal action against Cambridge Analytica if needed.

‘I made a mistake’

Zuckerberg said Facebook “clearly” should have been doing more all along and it shouldn’t have had such a limited view regarding what apps were doing with data requests.

“We understand that we need to take a broader view of our responsibilities as we’re not just building tools, we need to take responsibility for the outcomes of how people use those tools as well,” he said.

“Knowing what I know today, clearly we should have done more and we will going forward.” 

Last year, Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that fake news could have swung the 2016 US election, as “crazy” – a flippant comment he said he now regrets.

“I clearly made a mistake by dismissing fake news as crazy or having an impact,” he said.

“It was too flippant, and I should never have referred to it as crazy as it’s clearly a problem that requires careful work and since then we have done a lot to try and stop the spread of this information on Facebook.”

People do want relevant ads

On questions about ads and if Facebook should ease off its moneymaking quest in order to give users a better experience, he said people want relevant ads and it is “doing the right thing”. 

“People tell us that if they are going to see ads they want the ads to be good and the way the ads are good is that when someone tells us they like, for example, technology of skiing, that the ads are actually relevant to what they care about,” Zuckerberg said.

“Like most of the hard decisions that we make, this is one where there is trade-off between values that people really care about.

“On the one hand people want relevant experiences and on the other hand I do think there is some discomfort with how data is used with systems like ours.

“But the feedback is overwhelmingly on the side of wanting a better experience.” 

We don’t sell data to advertisers

He also said education was needed about how Facebook uses data with advertisers.

“For some reason we haven’t been able to kick this notion for years, that people think that we sell data to advertisers,” he said.

“We don’t. It’s not the thing that we do – it’s just counter to our own incentives – even if we wanted to do that it wouldn’t make sense for us to do that.

“I think that we can certainly do a better job of trying to explain that and make these things understandable, but the reality is the way we run the service is  people share information and we use that to help people connect and make services better. 

"We run ads to make it a free service that everyone in the world can afford.”

We didn’t invest enough 

In reference to security issues, he said as long as people are still employed to exploit systems like Facebook, such as the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA), it’s a “never-ending battle” as you can “never really fully solve security”.

“In retrospect we were behind and we didn’t invest enough in it upfront. We had thousands of people working on security, but nowhere near the 20,000 that we will have by the end of this year,” he said.

“I am confident that we are making progress against these adversaries, but they are very sophisticated and it would be a mistake to assume that you can ever really fully solve a problem like this or that they would ever actually give up doing what they are doing.”

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