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What's the future for Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal?

Despite the turmoil that continues to surround his company, Mark Zuckerberg has insisted he is still the best person to lead Facebook. Recent reports around improper data gathering by Cambridge Analytica - as well as fake news and propaganda - have prompted some to question Mr Zuckerberg's ability to lead a company that some think has grown beyond his control.

Ian Robertson, Visiting Professor, Computer Science, comments.

"How much data really has been released? The business model for Facebook and other social media depends on collecting data relating to personal usage and habits and selling that data to advertisers and research agencies. So its fairly safe to assume that in fact all data in Facebook has at some time been released to third parties. Are there technical processes or inventions which would give users more control over their personal information?

"There are many clever encryption algorithms that can be used to protect data and limit access. Facebook and similar companies already use this approach to secure their communication channels and to hide passwords etc. but if they continue to be allowed to sell data that contains personally recognisable information then "all bets are off".

"It's never going to be possible to enforce data access controls once data is passed along a chain to third parties. The best technical options are probably to (a) only allow Facebook to release anonymous data and (b) to build in hidden markers in the data so that, to some extent, it can be traced, so third parties cannot deny that any data they are using was actually sourced from a particular social medium organisation.

"Finally, is Mark Zuckerberg the person to continue running Facebook? Clearly there are legal issues here which we cannot comment on, but from a technology point of view the answer is probably "yes". Companies like Facebook are still technically driven and Mark has that background to understand how the technical model could be altered to keep the company successful within whatever new legal and compliance framework comes out of this scandal. Furthermore he retains the authority to push the changes through quickly. A change of leadership would send a strong message to the corporate world but it might not actually produce the required technical and procedural changes."

Ian Robertson, Visiting Professor, Computer Science

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