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Is Mark Zuckerberg Still the Right Man to Lead Facebook?
When Tesla’s shares rallied on Monday after the company settled the lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission over Elon Musk’s really dumb tweet, there was one big reason for the rally: As part of the settlement Musk was forced to step down as chairman for at least three years, but – more importantly – the S.E.C. is allowing him to remain on as chief executive of Tesla.
The way Wall Street sees it is that Tesla can move forward fine – and maybe even better – without Musk as its chairman; but the company would effectively be finished without Musk as its CEO. That’s because for all of his self-inflicted public relations and regulatory wounds, Musk is unquestionably the innovative brains behind Tesla’s operations; and its seems almost impossible to imagine it would ever succeed without him.
Mark Zuckerberg is also an innovative genius, helping to establish Facebook as the biggest social media platform in the world in relatively quick time. While the origins of Facebook have been debated – perhaps Zuckerberg stole the idea for the platform from his Harvard classmates – it’s hard to argue that Facebook wouldn’t be what Facebook is today without Zuckerberg.
But therein lies the rub: What exactly is Facebook today? It is the largest, most successful social media platform in the world, of course. But it is also developing a well-deserved reputation as the one big tech company that seems notoriously incapable of protecting user data.
With Facebook still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal – in which about 87 million Facebook users had their data improperly shared with the former voter profiling company – the social media giant revealed on Sept. 28 that hackers may have accessed about 50 million accounts in yet another security breach. The company said in a blog post that “it’s clear that attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted ‘View As,'” which is a feature on the platform that allows a user to see how their own profile looks to others on Facebook.
This latest data breach led Recode‘s Kurt Wagner to ask Zuckerberg a very simple, but crucial question during a conference call addressing the hack: Why should people actually trust Facebook with their personal data when the social media company continues to struggle at protecting it?
Here was Zuck’s response:
“As I’ve said in a number of things that I’ve written and spoken about, including election security, security is an arms race. We’re continuing to improve our defenses, and I think that this also underscores that there are just constant attacks from people who are trying to take over accounts or steal information from people in our community. I think that the teams that we have at Facebook are very focused on this and there are a lot of talented people who are working on this and I think doing good work, but this is going to be an ongoing effort and we’re going to need to keep on focusing on this over time.”
That seems like a long way of saying that Facebook has no answers. And it follows a pattern: After the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Zuckerberg remained silent for several days before addressing the controversy in a blog post that essentially satisfied no one.
And then when he finally conducted a conference call with reporters at the time, Zuckerberg said that “you never fully solve security.” While Zuckerberg is not wrong about this – skilled hackers have away of staying one step ahead of security – Facebook has yet to prove that it is making strides to at least minimize the threat.
“In retrospect we were behind, and we didn’t invest enough in it up front,” Zuckerberg said in that same conference call. That is not a very encouraging admission.
To be fair, Facebook has been making progress in trying to protect the upcoming U.S. elections from outside threats, pulling down hundreds of fake accounts aimed at political disruption. It also launched a bounty program aimed at catching data leaks.
But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Zuckerberg has admitted that under his leadership Facebook fell behind in data security. This latest breach makes it clear the company still has yet to catch up.
When you have an estimated 2.23 billion users worldwide, this failure at data protection is not just a problem – it’s become a crisis. It remains to be seen whether Zuckerberg is the right person to lead Facebook out of it.