Fix Facebook, whether it wants to or not: whistleblower

BRUSSELS, Dec 1 (INP) – Eight months after revealing the links between Facebook and ‎Cambridge Analytica (CA), whistleblower Christopher Wylie is pushing for the internet giant to be ‎regulated — whether it wants to or not.‎

‎ He is scathing about Facebook’s “man-child” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and the arrogance of ‎the company he runs.‎

‎ “Facebook knew about what happened with Cambridge Analytica, well before the Trump election, ‎well before Brexit, it did nothing about it,” Wylie told.‎

‎ “They knew about Russian disinformation campaigns on their platform, but to preserve the integrity ‎of their reputation, they place their company above their country.”‎

‎ Last March, Wylie revealed that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica took millions of Facebook ‎users’ data to build psychological profiles of users. He knew because he had worked as the company’s ‎research director.‎

‎ Targeted political campaign messages were used both in the US presidential election and in the run-‎up to Britain’s 2016 Brexit vote, he said.‎

‎ Zuckerberg, in a statement issued in March, acknowledged the data breach but said it had happened ‎without Facebook’s knowledge or consent. They had acted to ensure it never happened again, he ‎added.‎

‎ It is a bewilderingly complex story. But the important thing, said Wylie, was to stay focused on the ‎key facts.‎

‎ “You’ve got a company like CA whose staff were working in Russia, whose contractors are indicted by ‎Mueller and whose clients were meeting with (the) Russian embassy — so Russia’s everywhere in ‎this.”‎

‎ US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 ‎presidential campaign.‎

‎ But Wylie’s real anger is directed at Facebook and Zuckerberg.‎

‎ “One of the problems is that they have unfortunately a share structure which enables a ‘man-child’ ‎to run a company like an authoritarian dictator and no one else can do anything about it,” he said.‎

Facebook acknowledged on Tuesday that its engineers had flagged suspicious Russian activity as ‎early as 2014 — long before it became public.‎

‎ But Zuckerberg still refused to turn up to hearings held by the British Parliament this week attended ‎by lawmakers from nine different countries.‎

‎ Instead, vice president Richard Allan had to field questions on allegations that the company had been ‎exploited to manipulate major election results.‎

‎ For Wylie, Zuckerberg’s no-show in London spoke volumes.‎

‎ “He has built a platform that has created substantive risk to our society and to our democracy and he ‎doesn’t even have one hour to give…,” he said.‎

‎ Facebook is now being investigated by several US federal agencies.‎

‎ In Britain, it is appealing $637,000 fine handed down by the Information ‎Commissioner’s Office for serious breaches of the data protection laws over the Cambridge Analytica ‎revelations.‎

‎ And earlier this month, it has had to battle the fall-out from a New York Times report that it used a ‎public relations firm to discredit its critics, including billionaire philanthropist George Soros.‎

‎ Facebook’s outgoing communications chief Elliot Schrage took the blame.‎

‎”I’m not surprised, having been on the blunt end of Facebook retaliation, that they go after people ‎like George Soros and … hire firms to make up anti-semitic rumours and fake news,” he said.‎

‎ “It’s ironic that Facebook, in trying to defend itself as a platform that’s combatting fake news, creates ‎fake news in the first place.‎

‎ “It really reveals the heart and soul of this company, (which is) exactly why we need scrutiny, ‎accountability and new regulations.”‎

‎ But he gets why people are reluctant to join calls to close their Facebook accounts in protest.‎

‎ “I understand why people don’t want to leave…,” he said. “It’s now part and parcel of modern day ‎living.‎

‎ “This is why it’s so important to regulate, because just like electricity or water or roads, this is a utility, ‎and that means people don’t really have a choice to leave.”‎

‎ Facebook insists it is striving to wield its power more responsibly. Since the beginning of the year, it ‎says, it has deleted two billion false accounts suspected of spreading false information.‎

‎ After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it put in place new tools to make it easier for users to control ‎their personal information: and any political advertising now has to identify its source.‎

‎ But for Wylie, that is not enough.‎

‎ There needs to be a statutory code of conduct for data scientists and software engineers, just as ‎there are for other professions, he argues.‎

‎ Architects cannot just decide to leave out fire exits on a whim, he says, so the specialists who create ‎online “addictive spaces” need to be regulated in just the same way.‎

Inp/khan