'We thought the data had been deleted' - Facebook executive speaks on data breach scandal

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Source:

Associated Press

Facebook's No. 2 executive says the company should have conducted an audit after learning that a political consultancy improperly accessed user data nearly three years ago.

COO Sheryl Sandberg revealed Facebook knew of the breach almost three years ago.
Source: Associated Press

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told NBC's "Today" show that at the time, Facebook received legal assurances that Cambridge Analytica had deleted the improperly obtained information.

"What we didn't do is the next step of an audit and we're trying to do that now," she said.

The audit of Cambridge Analytica is on hold, in deference to a UK investigation. But Facebook has been conducting a broader review of its own practices and how other third-party apps use data.

In addition, Facebook announced today that it will require advertisers who want to run not just political ads, but also or so called "issue ads" —which may not endorse specific candidates or parties but discuss political topics— to be verified.

Facebook is trying to strengthen its system ahead of this year's US midterm elections as well as upcoming elections around the world. Facebook has already required political ads to verify who is paying for them and where the advertiser is located. The issue ads requirement is new.

Facebook will also require the administrators of pages with a "large number" of followers to also be verified. The company did not say what this number would be. The move is intended to clamp down on fake pages and accounts that were used to disrupt the 2016 presidential elections in the US.

Facebook says page administrators and advertisers will be verified by being asked to provide a government-issued ID. To verify addresses, it will mail a postcard with a unique code that the recipient can then enter into Facebook. This is similar to how Airbnb and other services verify addresses.

The company is facing a global backlash over the improper data-sharing scandal. Hearings over the issue are scheduled in the US, and the European Union is considering what actions to take against the company.

Sandberg also told NBC that if users were able to opt out of being shown ads, "at the highest level, that would be a paid product." This does not mean the company is planning to let users do this. Zuckerberg has made similar statements in the past, but has added that Facebook remains committed to offering a free service paid for by advertising.

Facebook users can opt out of seeing targeted ads, but can't shut off ads altogether. Neither can they opt entirely out of Facebook's data collection.

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