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Facebook Says Cambridge Analytica May Have Obtained Data On As Many As 87M Users


All right. To another story now, a story involving the number 87 million. Facebook says that's the number of people whose information may have been improperly shared with the political data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. This disclosure comes on the same day that lawmakers announced that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before Congress. Well, here to discuss the most recent developments is NPR tech reporter Aarti Shahani. Hey, Aarti.


KELLY: So Mark Zuckerberg today held a conference call with journalists. I want to start by just listening in for a moment to what he had to say.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: I think the reality here is that we need to take a broader view of our responsibility rather than just the legal responsibility. So, you know, we're focused on doing the right thing and making sure that people's information is protected. We're doing the investigations. We're locking down the platform, et cetera.

KELLY: Aarti, locking down the platform, doing the right thing - do we know what he means?

SHAHANI: Well, he means a lot of things. First of all, he's got a short-term and a longer-term view on what he's doing. He said that Facebook is one year into a massive three-year shift. So we're going to keep hearing about changes. They're going to last beyond one news cycle. There was a lot of questioning his leadership on the call. It was pretty blunt. You know, one question that came up was, has the board discussed you, Mark Zuckerberg, stepping down as chairman? He said, uncomfortably, not that I'm aware of.

Another question was, are you the best person to head Facebook? And what he said there - he was like, yes, I am, and when you're building something like Facebook, there are going to be things that you mess up, and you learn from your mistakes. He also said that so far no one has been fired to his knowledge around the Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke most recently.

KELLY: Let me drill down on that number I just put out there - 87 million people, the number that the company now says of people whose data was compromised in this Cambridge Analytica scandal. They'd originally said it was 50 million people - already pretty huge. We learned this from this blog post that came out today. Do we know how Facebook has arrived at this new, even more staggering number?

SHAHANI: Yeah. They are continuing to investigate. And now what they're saying about this new even more staggering number is that it's the upper limit. So they're like, we believe that this is the highest it's going to get, i.e. don't expect next week that number to go up.


SHAHANI: And the blog posts that you just mentioned, you know, that came out by Facebook's chief technology officer basically outlining steps that Facebook is going to take to guard user data more aggressively. OK. One ongoing issue is that Facebook is one massive platform, but on top of that, you've got other apps, other, what are called, third-party developers that for years have looked to Facebook to be a data feeder to them, to give them information about users, and everyone's kind of in the data sharing together.

The blog post announced that they're going to stop certain kinds of data sharing. So, for example, if I'm advertising an event, if I'm organizing an event on Facebook, it used to be that the people who are going to join my event would be visible to third-party developers, but Facebook is changing that so that now the guest list is guarded. The comments for the event are guarded as one step. And really, you know, what you're seeing is Facebook sending out the message incrementally that, hey, we know that our borders were porous, but we're building a wall.

KELLY: And, Aarti, quickly, we mentioned that Mark Zuckerberg will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He's going to be testifying next Wednesday. What are you watching for?

SHAHANI: Yeah. You know, the thing is that there's a real conversation here to be had about regulation. So far, Zuckerberg admits that Facebook has been lax with handling user data. In part, that's his fault, but in part, you know, you've got to look at what are the laws, what are the regulations making him do it. If a mistake costs you nothing versus a mistake costs you a billion dollars, well, what do you more - when are you more likely to make a mistake? So I'm looking to see what are the regulatory conversations that really take shape here.

KELLY: That's NPR's Aarti Shahani. Thanks so much.

SHAHANI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOT SUGAR'S "SINKIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.