RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Mark Zuckerberg says he's really sorry and that Facebook is going to notify every single one of the estimated 50 million people whose personal data was extracted and handed off to a data firm working for the Trump campaign. The Facebook CEO broke his silence yesterday and, appearing on CNN, surprised many people by saying that he's open to regulation.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDERSON COOPER 360")
MARK ZUCKERBERG: I actually am not sure we shouldn't be regulated. I actually think the question is more, what is the right regulation? - rather than, yes or no, should it be regulated?
MARTIN: Meanwhile, his company's stock plunged almost $50 billion this week. We should say, for the record, Cambridge Analytica denies misusing this data. Let's bring in NPR's Aarti Shahani, who's been covering this story.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: So Zuckerberg apologized. What else did he say?
SHAHANI: Well, you know, he's had a lot to say. About the recent scandal, Zuckerberg says his company is going to audit thousands of apps, meaning a lot of the games, dating apps, news, music streaming services you might use through Facebook. To get those apps to build on Facebook and make it the powerhouse that it is today, Facebook used to offer to share lots of user data, OK? But that's how they ended up with this leaky, insecure system that spiraled out of control and tossed tens of millions of profiles into the hands of Cambridge Analytica.
SHAHANI: Zuckerberg has not yet explained why his company failed to be more careful early on, and I spoke with an interesting set of people on this front - people who have a take, who are part of a group called the Facebook developer advisory board. It's a group that Facebook convened on a quarterly basis back in 2014, and at least three members of it don't buy this version of events where, you know, Facebook is an unwitting victim. As one - yeah. As one person put it to me, the notion from Facebook that we're shocked - shocked - anyone would do such a thing, would take user data, it's ridiculous; anybody could have done it; this was a known known, you know, meaning that Facebook has been ramping up its mobile advertising business. It went from $0 to $13 billion in just five years, out of nowhere, competing with Google. Part of the strategy may have been to play fast and loose with user data, so that needs more scrutiny.
MARTIN: Right. And now they just got caught. So the other issue here, Aarti, is that Cambridge Analytica is accused of abusing user data and using it to target people with political messaging. And this is something that Facebook has done - taking data and using it to microtarget to certain audiences. This is part of their business model, right?
SHAHANI: Correct, and this is a really important point. This scandal brought privacy issues to life, OK? It got people asking, do you really want every like, every post, every click, every new friend to be turned into a data point so that Facebook can sell you or sell access to you to whoever's buying?
MARTIN: No. I can just tell you, no.
SHAHANI: That's your answer.
SHAHANI: And it's a debate, right? Listen for a moment to this former Facebook employee Dipayan Ghosh. He's got a very skeptical take on what the company's doing.
DIPAYAN GHOSH: The business model of this company is directly in contradiction to user privacy. We all know that. And it is always going to be a difficulty to try to move forward in this industry in a way that is sensitive to privacy and security risks.
MARTIN: All right. So Aarti, he's saying sensitivity to privacy is challenging for Facebook. What does that mean? Why?
SHAHANI: Yeah, so, you know, say you don't want to tell Facebook your gender, your race, your marital status. Say you skip those parts of the profile. But they figure it out anyway from your likes, from the stories you click in your news feed, from the groups you join. You end up revealing the inner workings of your mind, your biases. And the business is to exploit that, right? Remember back in May 2016 before the election, Russia-linked groups bought Facebook ads to target people and get them to show up to opposing rallies, OK? They orchestrated a real-world standoff built off of data mining.
And it goes beyond politics, too, OK? Say I'm a woman looking for an accounting job or an African-American looking for an apartment. Well, the small handful of firms that are hiring in my town or of realtors that are renting in my town - they could decide they just want men or they just want whites, and the Facebook tool lets them do that, target one group and leave another in the dark. So sure, that is illegal, but Facebook isn't great at self-policing. Lots of things are slipping through the cracks.
MARTIN: So Zuckerberg told CNN that he is willing to testify before Congress, which many on Capitol Hill have been agitating for. Is he likely to actually do that? Could we see him up there?
SHAHANI: Well, you know - devil in details. It was actually my favorite moment in the interview with him. Have a listen to his big caveat.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANDERSON COOPER 360")
ZUCKERBERG: So the short answer is this. I'm happy to if it's the right thing to do. You know, Facebook testifies in Congress regularly on a number of topics, some high-profile and some not.
SHAHANI: Yeah. And so, you know, basically, the Senate Judiciary Committee is asking the Facebook chief to come and talk. And Zuckerberg may feel that it's the right thing to do, or he may feel that the right thing to do is to send his lawyers, you know? We're going to see about that.
MARTIN: The right thing to do can be subjective.
SHAHANI: Yeah, no, it clearly is. And, you know, there are some really big questions on the table around regulation and how deep the lawmakers are going to go to question the business model of advertising, to question whether, you know, users should be the product that's sold. You know, and if not, what are the protections that are put in place? You know, Zuckerberg is now 33 years old. He's already built a company that is more powerful than most countries. And, you know, he's taking his legacy very seriously here.
SHAHANI: Something to think about.
MARTIN: NPR's Aarti Shahani for us this morning. Thanks so much, Aarti.
SHAHANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.