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MIT Technology Review

What Zuckerberg said, and what he didn’t

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Facebook’s CEO finally broke his media silence with a string of interviews about his firm’s data scandal last night. But what did he really have to say?

Backstory: Facebook is embroiled in a huge scandal because of the way its users’ data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, a firm that provided data to the Trump election campaign in 2016.

Mea culpa? Kinda: In a Facebook post yesterday, Zuck said the debacle was “a breach of trust” between Facebook and its users, but he also passed blame to Cambridge Analytica. He announced a set of audits and investigations to discover other data offences, and he plans to introduce policies to stop similar problems in the future.

What Zuck said: The CEO then went on a media offensive, giving interviews to CNN, the New York TimesWired, and Recode. Here’s what he had to say.

On social media regulation: “I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” Zuckerberg said to CNN. “There are things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see.”

On Facebook’s business model: “I don’t think the ad model is going to go away,” he told the New York  Times, “because I think fundamentally, it’s important to have a service like this that everyone in the world can use, and the only way to do that is to have it be very cheap or free.”

On testifying to Congress: “If it is ever the case that I am the most informed person at Facebook in the best position to testify, I will happily do that,” he told Wired. (Out of interest: who, exactly, is better qualified than he?)

On a user exodus: “I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on [#DeleteFacebook], but, you know, it’s not good,” he told the Times.

On resources to fix things: “We’ll have more than 20,000 people working on security and community operations by the end of the year,” he told the Times. And to Recode he said that the fixes will cost “many millions of dollars.”

What Zuck didn't say: An overwhelming message from the interviews was an insistence that Facebook is doing the best it can to keep up in a fast-changing world. That’s debatable, and he didn’t really explain how the firm could try to take a more proactive approach. He also didn’t fully articulate why we didn’t find out sooner about this mess, which he first heard of in 2015.

Just the start: Zuck shouldn’t expect his media appearances to draw any kind of line under events. He’ll still be pursued by governments, lawyers, and critics over the “breach of trust.” And the firm continues to hurt financially: its stock keeps sliding.