Following reports last night that Facebook's Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos would be leaving the company after purportedly refusing to buckle to pressure to prioritize corporate profits over protecting users, Facebook said Tuesday that it would be hosting an "emergency town hall meeting" to allow employees to ask questions about the company's relationship with Cambridge Analytica.
The meeting will be led by the company's deputy general counsel, Paul Grewal, the same employee who authored the blog post announcing the company's suspension of CA for improperly using personal data gleaned from 50 million Facebook users, and then lying about it (to be sure, CA has denied the accusations and offered a dramatically different account of what happened).
Still, the meeting has done little to assuage employees' uneasiness, according to the Verge. For example, while employees from Facebook officers around the world are welcome to call in, the Q&A is only slated to last 30 minutes. And what's worse, CEO Mark Zuckerberg won't be making an appearance.
The company will hold its regularly scheduled all-hands meeting on Friday, but it's not yet clear whether Zuckerberg intends to address his employees during that meeting, either.
While Facebook executives have been active in discussing the Cambridge Analytica story on internal forums, Tuesday’s meeting will represent the first time a large group of employees will have the opportunity to question company leadership live and in person. (The event is also being streamed for remote employees around the world as part of “FYI Live,” a series of live chats featuring company executives organized by Facebook’s internal communications team.)
The move reflects growing unease internally about Facebook’s response to reports published this week in the New York Times and the Guardian. The articles laid out how a researcher at the University of Cambridge created a Facebook app to harvest information about millions of Facebook profiles and improperly gave the data to Cambridge Analytica, in violation of Facebook’s terms of service. Together, they raised fresh concerns about the steps that Facebook takes to protect the privacy of users’ data, drawing bipartisan calls for Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress and sending Facebook stock tumbling more than 10 percent below the all-time high it reached on February 1st.
Employees say Zuckerberg's reticence is unnecessarily stoking suspicions about Facebook's conduct, leading to an avalanche of criticism both internally and externally.
Zuckerberg has faced criticism both internally and externally for remaining silent about the Cambridge Analytica revelations. "The prevailing sentiment is, why haven’t we heard from Mark?" the employee said.
Meanwhile, a UK regulator on Tuesday announced that it would be investigating whether Facebook responded "robustly" to reports about CA improperly leveraging Facebook data, NBC News reported. Further complicating the plot, NBC said UK regulators first took an interest in CA's data earlier this month.
"We are looking at whether or not Facebook secured and safeguarded personal information on the platform and whether when they found out about the loss of the data, whether they acted robustly and whether or not people were informed," Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told the BBC on Tuesday morning.
Denham first demanded access to the data held by Cambridge Analytica on March 7, the Information Commissioner's Office said in a statement. The company didn't respond by the deadline given and on Monday evening Denham announced that the ICO is seeking a warrant for the information. She did not say when regulators had started looking into Facebook.
Facebook had started its own audit at Cambridge Analytica's London office, but halted it at the request of the Information Commissioners Office, the company said Monday. The ICO said that Facebook's search "would potentially compromise a regulatory investigation."
Democratic lawmakers in the US have demanded that Zuckerberg appear before Congress to answer questions about what they have (incorrectly) labeled as a data breach.
Responding to an "undercover" report by Channel 4 purporting to show CA offering bribes and planning to arrange a "honeypot" trap involving a sex worker and a "political opponent" of the ersatz client, CA CEO Alexander Nix lashed out at the media during a BBC interview Tuesday, accusing it of orchestrating a coordinated attack on the firm, which was bankrolled by billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer.
The allegations against the company are "entirely unfounded and extremely unfair," said Alexander Nix, chief executive officer of the data-analysis firm.
"We see this as a coordinated attack by the media that’s been going on for very many months in order to damage the company that had some involvement with the election of Donald Trump," Nix said in an interview with the BBC that was posted on the network’s Twitter feed.
Of course, Democratic lawmakers' aggressive condemnations of Facebook reinforce a notion that's been evident since the Russian "disinformation campaign" was first unveiled late last year: Democrats need a scalp - somebody to blame for Hillary Clinton's loss.
And if it can't be Trump - well, it's looking increasingly likely that they'd settle for Zuck.
This reality has probably not been lost on the company's founder and CEO.
* * *
Facebook shares took a drubbing yesterday, notching its sharpest one-day drop since March 2014 while dipping into correction territory. However, shares bounced in premarket trading Tuesday.