OTTAWA—Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a public apology on April 4 for his company’s handling of users’ personal information—including more than 620,000 Canadians’—as the social media giant faced a growing international uproar over the questionable use of personal data for political purposes.
The company estimates 622,161 users in Canada had their data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica through apps used by themselves or their friends.
The company said those affected will find out April 9 if their information was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerberg said the privacy breach showed his company didn’t take seriously its responsibility towards users “and that was a huge mistake.”
“It was my mistake. So now we have to go through every part of our relationship with people and make sure we’re taking a broad enough view of our responsibility,” he said during an afternoon conference call with reporters.
Canada’s privacy commissioner said he wasn’t surprised at the magnitude of the number of Canadians affected. Speaking in Toronto, Daniel Therrien said the figure will work into his ongoing investigation about the data breach and whether there were any violations of federal privacy laws.
Facebook is facing its worst privacy scandal ever in the wake of allegations that Cambridge Analytica used data collected without users’ authorization to help Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and possibly other elections. Policy makers in Canada and other countries are now wrestling with how to respond to the spread of “fake news” on social media platforms like Facebook, which announced on April 4 it had also shut down accounts and pages linked to a Russian agency accused of online meddling in foreign elections.
Zuckerberg said the company would bring to 20,000 the number of workers dedicated to battling “fake news,” as he apologized for initially dismissing the notion that the misinformation campaign had any impact on election outcomes.
The social media giant plans to restrict data access on its platforms, which includes Instagram, to better protect users’ information. Facebook will disable a feature that let anyone search Facebook for a user with their email or phone number, saying in a post that “malicious actors” had used the tool to scrape personal data of most users on Facebook. And starting April 9, it will show people which apps use their Facebook information.
Canada’s acting minister for democratic institutions called Facebook’s admission of the scope of the breach “deeply concerning.”
“While Facebook has begun to take initial steps to address these issues, it is clear that much more needs to be done,” Scott Brison said in a statement.
Brison has said he’d be open to strengthening federal privacy laws, which don’t currently apply to political parties. And Zuckerberg appeared open to further regulation in a sector that has so far shied away from government oversight.