Facebook Japan’s chief admits that while it has lost a degree of trust with its users in light of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, its parent will in the long run be able to create a better and more secure service after learning from a privacy debacle that has allowed the data of tens of millions of its users fall into the hands of a British data-mining firm.
“In terms of this specific incident, we do feel very unfortunate that there was an abuse of our platform, and we also do feel very sorry that we have taken down some of the trust that users had towards Facebook because of this incident,” said Shin Hasegawa, managing director of Facebook Japan, in an interview Tuesday with The Japan Times.
“There are a lot of initiatives that we are working on and one thing that we are confident on is that this is going to make us better, and make us in a position where we deserve the trust of people in terms of handling their privacy and their data,” he added.
Since then, Facebook has vowed to protect user data derived from profiles, applications and events. The company also promised that new tools would allow users to more easily understand and tweak their privacy settings.
The new policies were partially outlined on its website in two posts titled, “Cracking Down on Platform Abuse,” and “It’s Time to Make Our Privacy Tools Easier to Find.”
Increasingly aware of its sinking public image, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has additionally made a number of media appearances in recent days to explain the steps being taken to ensure user data is protected.
But even as Facebook makes a push to contain the fallout, new details on the potential scale of the affected users has kept pressure on the Silicon Valley giant.
In the most recent news release explaining the new privacy policies, Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer wrote that, “In total, we believe the Facebook information of up to 87 million people — mostly in the U.S. — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.”
The scandal itself has led to high-profile defections by famous brands and celebrities who decided to either delete their profiles or remove advertisements from the platform. These developments have hammered Facebook’s stock, which has dropped over 15 percent in about the past two weeks. It has also led a few experts and business leaders to question Facebook’s fundamental business model, which relies mainly on advertising revenue.
Hasegawa, a former Rakuten Senior Executive Officer, remained confident that Facebook can maintain an ad-based business model while protecting user data at the same time.
“We don’t see ads as conflicting with our mission. We also see users appreciating ads that are relevant for them and that is what we are sticking to. On a separate note, it is true we are taking consumer data privacy at a much more serious degree,” he said.
Japan, home to 28 million Facebook users, has for the most part avoided a severe backlash from Facebook’s privacy issues compared with its counterparts in Europe and the U.S.
One factor that has kept Facebook out of the front-page headlines may stem from the fact that very few Japanese were compromised by Cambridge Analytica. According to Schroepfer’s post, Japan was not included in the top 10 list of countries whose citizens were most violated.
While Facebook’s growth trajectory may hit a slight bump in the U.S., the company does not appear to be slowing in Japan.
Joining Facebook’s team in 2015, Hasegawa has overseen a rapid expansion of its popular photo-sharing service Instagram, which now boasts 20 million Japanese users.
Its Tokyo office has tried to maintain a healthy image by leading campaigns aimed at empowering women and working with cities and prefectures on how to revive the economy by fostering small businesses.