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Takeaways from the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 25, 2015 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the F8 summit in San Francisco, California. AFP PHOTO / Josh Edelson

“This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened. Our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

This was Mark Zuckerberg’s statement to CNN’s Laurie Segall in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica situation which has dominated the airwaves in the past week.

The CNN interview came after the Facebook Chief Executive published a post on his page giving his company’s side of the story while explaining what it intends to do to ensure the issue doesn’t repeat itself.

Reactions from several quarters indicate that Zuckerberg’s response to the Cambridge Analytica situation allays the fears of users and investors across the world. It establishes him in the minds of many as a listening, responsible and responsive chief executive whose priority remains ensuring the positive experience of the Facebook user – the sincerity of Zuckerberg’s response is a testament to the company’s commitment to do more.

Facebook’s reaction follows a similar one from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) which came under attack for failing to deliver chicken to its UK outlets, and retail brand, ASOS which released misbranded product packaging materials to its UK customers. As I noted in this column in February, the brands who succeed and retain the affection of their customers are the ones who are not afraid to take responsibility, apologise, and sincerely commit to doing better.

But to be and do all this, you first need to listen to what they are saying. You need to have the patience to sieve through the barrage of attacks to know the voices targeted at bringing you down and the ones that sincerely want you to do better. Facebook, KFC, ASOS, Globacom and other companies who have weathered such stormy PR weather know above all things that only the truth is paramount.

Let me run you through my takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post last Wednesday. His post was concise and straight to the point. It dealt with all user concerns and opened up avenues with which the issue can be engaged moving forward.

Taking responsibility: Since many users have their personal data to Facebook, it is normal to expect an explanation from it on how its data may have been accessed by a third party. In his post, Mark Zuckerberg did not mince words in admitting that mistakes were made, expressing his regrets that such mistakes happened, and giving his commitment to ensuring things are done better to prevent a recurrence.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”

Explain the issue: For many, the breach in data privacy was somewhat confusing, they needed a detailed explanation of what actually happened. Zuckerberg took this on in his post, he gave a detailed chronology of events starting in 2007 right up till now. He explained how Cambridge University researcher, Aleksandr Kogan gained access to tens of millions of data after creating a personality quiz app.

What did Facebook do when it found out? Hear Zuckerberg: “We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to confirm this. We’re also working with regulators as they investigate what happened.”

The business of trust: Unlike many large corporations and governments across the world, Zuckerberg recognizes that trust is the foundation of business and that capitalism with a conscience is the way to go.

According to his statement, this issue is not a business-to-business issue, Zuckerberg recognizes that this is about billions of people across the world who use Facebook daily and whose trust the company can not afford to breach.

“This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.”

How to fix the problem: As we all know, taking responsibility is the honourable thing to do, but addressing issues such as breach of trust requires a step-by-step plan on what is being done to prevent a repeat. Zuckerberg sure recognizes this imperative. He went on to enumerate three crucial steps being taken by Facebook to protect user data and increase trust on the platform.

According to him, Facebook will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information; restrict developers’ data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuses; and also ensure that users understand which apps they have allowed access. “Beyond the steps we had already taken in 2014, I believe these are the next steps we must take to continue to secure our platform.”

Don’t dwell, move forward: Now that the issue has been addressed on diverse platforms starting from Facebook where it originated, it is necessary to take the learnings and apply them with the aim of doing better so as to enrich customers experience.

Mark Zuckerberg has committed to maintaining the trust users reposed in his platform and we have no reason whatsoever to doubt him.

“I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community. While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past. We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.”

After all is said and done, it is important to note that our product or services are used by people who choose to do so because they trust in what we say it will do. If there is a mistake somewhere down the line, it behoves on us to analyze the issue, consider it on its merits, and respond with a human voice.

For many others who are running customer-facing businesses and building brands, this is a teachable moment and we can’t afford to lose sight of its lessons.


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