What Facebook Is Changing About Its Data-Sharing Practices

14 hours ago
Originally published on April 5, 2018 8:15 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On Monday, users of Facebook will see a notification at the top of their news feeds. The social media company's under pressure for just how much it let other companies use the information of millions of Facebook users, so it will tell people how to have their information spread to fewer places. Today the company's chief operating officer added this. Sheryl Sandberg tells NPR that Facebook will begin notifying the 87 million individuals whose information may have gone to Cambridge Analytica. Most never consented to give up that data. The company later worked for the election of President Trump.

Sandberg spoke with Steve Inskeep of NPR's Morning Edition. He's on the line now from Menlo Park, Calif. And, Steve, to begin, why take this step?

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: The company is under a lot of pressure, Audie, to be more transparent. They've had one awkward disclosure after another just about Cambridge Analytica. Just this week, the number of people whose data may have been compromised went from 50 million to 87 million, although Sheryl Sandberg went on to emphasize she's not really even sure about that. But it's clear that this is a vast company that's now under vast pressure for a series of stories and scandals, of which this is only the latest.

CORNISH: So they're not even sure about the number, and yet they're saying each one of these individuals will learn somehow that their data has been compromised.

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah, will learn in a personal and direct way beginning on Monday. All 87 million won't hear on Monday apparently. But they're going to begin putting these notifications to these individuals that if Cambridge Analytica got your data, supposedly you will be told. And this is one of many announcements they've made in recent days that really get to the heart of the contradictions of Facebook. It's a huge company that says it's going to give individuals tremendous freedom and power to connect with others, but Facebook itself has ended up having immense power of course. And Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, faces questions before Congress next week.

CORNISH: These are folks who don't normally make themselves available to talk, right? Sandberg is another one of the top people there. How did she talk about this past year of public relations disasters for the company?

INSKEEP: Oh, my, gosh, with lots of regret, repeatedly said that she and other executives were responsible for failures and didn't do enough. And they've been criticized for ignoring the demands to protect people's privacy for years. And we talked about that. Let's listen to some.

I'm curious. When you're talking with Mark Zuckerberg or whoever else you may talk with around this company, have you had moments when you've asked the question, are we as a company too powerful?

SHERYL SANDBERG: It's an important question. And people have that question about us and others particularly as our size and scope - and we've had a lot of long and thoughtful conversations about what that means. We know that a lot of regulators have that question. We know that consumers around the world have that question.

INSKEEP: Do you take it seriously, or does it seem ridiculous to you?

SANDBERG: Oh, we take it very seriously. We've always had a deep responsibility for people. But at our size and scope with billions of people using our products, we have a very deep responsibility. We're having conversations with regulators around the world. But we're not even waiting for regulation.

INSKEEP: Given that the Federal Trade Commission reached a consent agreement with Facebook in 2011 to better protect people's privacy, should you have taken these steps years ago?

SANDBERG: Well, we're in constant conversation with the FTC. And that consent decree was important, and we've taken every step we know how to make sure we're in accordance with it. But the bigger answer is, should we have taken these steps years ago anyway? And the answer to that is yes - like, a very clear, a very firm yes. We really believed in social experiences. We really believed in protecting privacy. But we were way too idealistic. We did not think enough about the abuse cases.

INSKEEP: And Sandberg is trying to prove that her company's attitude has changed, Audie.

CORNISH: NPR's Steve Inskeep - we'll hear more of that interview tomorrow on Morning Edition. Steve, thanks so much.

INSKEEP: Glad to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.