Technology

Facebook has 'nightmare week' 1 year after Cambridge Analytica scandal

Ad issues, livestream issues plague company

This week started with Facebook mistakenly removing ads critical of Facebook and ended with the company failing to immediately catch and remove an apparent livestream of a deadly attack.

In between, lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic raised concerns about Facebook's power, the New York Times reported there is a criminal probe into Facebook's data sharing deals, and two top execs are leaving as the company pivots to being more privacy focused. Facebook couldn't even keep its services up and running. The company suffered what may be the longest outage in its history.

If that's not enough, this weekend marks the one year anniversary of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that upended the company — an anniversary Facebook would almost certainly love the world to forget.

All of the problems that have plagued Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the year since then to have collided at once: regulatory scrutiny, the struggle to police its platform, and a growing executive exodus amid a bottomless pit of scandals.

"It's been a nightmare week for Zuckerberg and Facebook," said Daniel Ives, an analyst who tracks Facebook for Wedbush. "Tech investors are getting more nervous" that "more turbulence could be ahead."

Shares of Facebook fell as much as 4% in early trading Friday before rebounding somewhat. Representatives for Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

Facebook started the year on a strong note. In January, the company reported a record profit for the final three months of 2018, sending a strong signal that its endless PR crises had not hurt its bottom line. On a conference call with analysts to discuss the results, Zuckerberg struck a confident note. "We've started to turn a corner," he said.

Now it looks more like Facebook turned a corner and walked into another wall.

As Facebook works to move past the data privacy crises that have plagued it over the last year, politicians and regulators continue to scrutinize the company. Federal prosecutors are reportedly probing Facebook's data sharing deals with a number of large technology companies. The Federal Trade Commission is said to be in talks with Facebook over a possible record fine. And European officials are seemingly scrutinizing the company's every move.

Perhaps in an effort to show the world the company is truly reformed, Zuckerberg penned a lengthy blog post this month on his plans to reposition Facebook as a "privacy-focused" platform. To get there, Zuckerberg said Facebook will emphasize private, encrypted and ephemeral conversations across its products.

Yet, these moves may only add to the turbulence in Facebook's bench. Chris Cox, Facebook's chief product officer and Zuckerberg's longtime right-hand man, announced plans to leave the company Thursday. Both he and Zuckerberg alluded to the need for "leaders" who are excited about the new strategy.

Facebook also said Chris Daniels, who was in charge of WhatsApp, is leaving the company. In recent months, the company has lost its chief security officer, its top policy and communications exec, both founders of Instagram and the CEO of WhatsApp.

These headlines, Ives said, show Facebook continuing to grapple with the "ripple impact" from Cambridge Analytica.

Following that data scandal, Zuckerberg and other execs repeatedly told politicians, investors and the press that Facebook was hiring thousands more content moderators and building artificial intelligence systems to protect the platform from propaganda, hate speech and violent videos.

But the limits of this two-pronged approach were apparent on Friday during a massacre at a mosque in New Zealand. One of the shooters appears to have livestreamed the attack on Facebook for nearly 17 minutes. Facebook said it "quickly removed" it, but only after it was alerted to the video by the New Zealand Police. Copies of the video continued to appear on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The news once again sparked criticisms that Facebook and other social media companies aren't doing enough to crack down on this type of content. At the very least, it serves as a stark reminder of something Zuckerberg has said in the past: protecting Facebook is a "never-ending battle."

If this week is any indication, putting Facebook's house in order could prove to be a never-ending battle too.


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