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Facebook executive gets grilled by Singapore’s law minister

Facebook admits it should have informed public earlier about data breach  

Facebook is currently under massive pressure due to its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

On 22 March, Singapore’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods gathered to hear representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter give oral evidence during one of the parliamentary sessions on how they are combating fake news.

Google was represented at the session by Irene Jay Liu, news lab lead in Asia Pacific, Facebook by Alvin Tan, head of public policy for Southeast Asia and Simon Milner, vice president of public policy for APAC, Twitter by Kathleen Mary Helen Reen, director of public policy and philanthropy for APAC, AIC by Jeff Paine, managing director.

While the topic was fake news, committee member K Shanmugam, who is also Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs minister, spent the first few hours of the session grilling Milner in a somewhat heated exchange on how Cambridge Analytica harvested users’ data on Facebook. Shanmugam had quizzed Milner about allegations that Facebook data was misused by Cambridge Analytica and whether it was “odd” that users on the social media platform were not informed earlier.

To that, Milner said, “it definitely looks like a decision where we made a wrong call”.

“We should have let people know. Our CEO has owned that decision and said that we got that wrong,” he added, referring to founder Mark Zuckerberg’s post on Facebook overnight. In that post, Zuckerberg admitted that the company “made mistakes” and that “there’s more to do.”

Milner also admitted that the social media giant had a “moral obligation” to inform users earlier about the breach that occurred between 2014 and 2015.

“We wouldn’t be admitting that we’ve breached people’s trust if that was not the case,” said Milner.

Shanmugan asked if Facebook could be expected to have done more in ensuring the data Cambridge Analytica took inappropriately had been deleted, Milner said: “Yes, given the actions we are now taking.”

Shanmugam also questioned if Milner had been “careful and economical” with the truth when he told British MPs last month at a Select Committee inquiry into fake news that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. To this, Milner stressed repeatedly that his answers were accurate based on what he knew at the time.

The consultancy had given Facebook a sworn affidavit saying it had no Facebook data, Milner said. He later conceded that in hindsight, he should have “provided a fuller answer to the committee and made them more aware of what we understood to be true”.

Shanmugam also asked why Facebook did not verify the certification from Dr Kogan that he and Cambridge Analytica had deleted the data it obtained.

Milner replied: “That is one of the lessons for us, in terms of why we are now going to audit all other apps and not just take their affirmation… that they have deleted data or not passed it on.”

MARKETING has reached out Facebook Malaysia’s Nicole Tan for further comment.

MARKETING reached out to Facebook Malaysia who stated, “We will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform in 2014 to reduce data access, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. If we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them from our platform.”

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