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BSB111 Business Law and Ethics | Case Study of Facebook Data Breach

Case Study ONE: Facebook Data Breach

Adapted from “Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: 'I'm responsible for what happened' with data privacy issues”, CNBC, April 4, 2018 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took personal responsibility for letting malicious parties have access to user data. The company will embark on a three-year push to prevent these issues from happening in the future, but expects the process to take years.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking personal responsibility for letting third parties access Facebook user data without permission, and says the company will embark on a three-year push to prevent it from happening in the future. "I started this place, I run it," Zuckerberg said during a call with reporters on Wednesday. "I'm responsible for what happened here."

No one has been fired at Facebook due to the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal, he revealed. But he admitted the company did not do enough to focus on preventing abuse and minimized the impact of its platforms, calling the lack of action "a huge mistake, my mistake." He added, "I'm going to do the best job running it going forward, but I'm not going to throw anyone under the bus."

Facebook has been under heavy scrutiny over its use of user data, especially after evidence of Russian interference through advertising during the 2016 U.S. presidential election was discovered. In March, The Guardian and the New York Times reported consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used personal data which was obtained improperly through a quiz app to find potential President Donald Trump voters.

The process to safeguard Facebook is a multi-year effort, Zuckerberg said adding the company will focus on a three-year push but is committed to on-going work. While it may incrementally get better over time, Zuckerberg doesn't expect it will be fixed anytime soon "given how complex Facebook is and how many systems there are and how we have to rethink our relationship with people."

Facebook has 15,000 people working on security and reviewing content, and will have 20,000 by the end of the year, Zuckerberg said.

'We're never going to sell your information'

He also emphasized that Facebook does not sell the information it gathers about users, although it may use that information to help advertisers target ads more effectively. "I think we need to do a better job of explaining the principles of what we operate under," he said regarding users understanding that they chose to share profile content with friends. "We're never going to sell your information."

It makes no sense for Facebook to broker user information to advertisers, he emphasized. Allowing thirdparty data services to help advertisers target users was a "relatively smaller part of what we are doing." "The way we run the service: People share info," Zuckerberg said. "We use that to help people connect. We run ads to make it a free service everyone in the world can afford."

Multiple journalists asked Zuckerberg whether he would continue to stay in a leadership position at the company. One asked [if] the board has asked him to step down as chairman. "Not that I'm aware of," Zuckerberg said. Awkward silence ensued.

(a) Imagine you are Mark Zuckerberg and an employee comes to you claiming the company’s digital system, including client files, would be profitable for the company. You have to decide whether your company should engage in the deal to share information from the server pertaining to client information. Using Utilitarianism, determine whether engaging in this business decision is a moral act.

(b) Now apply Kantian deontological ethics to the decision in (a) and evaluate the issues raised in the article. (6 marks)

Case Study TWO: CEO Traits

Adapted from “What Mark Zuckerberg revealed about his personality during historic Senate hearing”, Metro UK, April 11, 2018 (https://metro.co.uk/2018/04/11/mark-zuckerberg-revealed-personalitycambridge-analytica-hearing-7457656/) 

Mark Zuckerberg is often painted as an enigmatic introvert who gives little of his true character. So yesterday’s Congress hearing was a rare opportunity to get to see the ‘real’ Zuck. Normally, the Facebook founder appears at tightly stage-managed events where he’s asked relatively easy questions.

At one ‘Townhall’ Q&A he answered queries by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Professor Stephen Hawking, which are unlikely to have surprised him all that much. It’s likely Zuckerberg was training as hard as a marathon runner before the hearing, which was intended to discuss privacy and the Cambridge Analytica but touched on everything from tech addiction to Facebook’s ‘arms race’ against Russian propagandists.

During some five hours of Senate questioning Tuesday, Zuckerberg apologized several times for Facebook failure. He batted away often-aggressive questioning from lawmakers who accused him of failing to protect the personal information of millions of Americans from Russians intent on upsetting the US election. He appeared with a long set of notes and had also clearly anticipated most of the questions he was going to be asked. But although he didn’t give much away and escaped the hearing without revealing anything which would bring down Facebook, the trial was a fascinating chance to learn a bit more about the billionaire. Here are some of the things we learned about Mark Zuckerberg when we watched the Congress hearing last night.

The surprise guest at yesterday’s hearing was Zuckerberg’s personality, which unexpectedly gate-crashed the party after he got over the initial shock of his dramatic entrance. At times, he actually appeared rather warm and even sincere, particularly when discussing the well-being of the Facebook ‘community’ of users. When the boyish billionaire walked in, he appeared almost shell-shocked as he faced dozens of flashing cameras. But when he began to answer questions, the appeared to relax and even congratulated himself at one point, saying: ‘That was pretty good.’ He did get very nervous at several points throughout the interview, stumbling a bit when talking about allegations that his firm ‘tips the scales’ towards the political left when making decisions about which content should be promoted, censored or banned on the platform. He also seemed evasive when talking about Palantir, which Senator Maria Cantell likened to a ‘Stanford Analytica’ based in the US.

Zuck replied with terse statements like ‘Senator, I do not know’ or ‘Senator, I have not heard that’, before insisting Palantir had not ‘scraped’ data from Facebook. During these moments of pressure, we got a look at Zuck’s more robotic side as he emotionlessly delivered his answers.

Although the Facebook CEO did admit that Silicon Valley was an ‘extremely left-leaning place’, he stopped short of explicitly stating his own political beliefs. Texas Senator Ted Cruz asked him if the social network ‘engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship’. Zuckerberg said he could ‘understand where the concern is coming from because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley’. ‘This is actually a concern that I have and that I try to root out in the company, is making sure that we do not have any bias in the work that we do, and I think it is a fair concern that people would at least wonder about,’ Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg mentioned the college dorm room where he launched Facebook several times throughout the hearing. The humble beginnings of the social network are a key part of its corporate narrative, although the fact it was started as a way of rating the attractiveness of women is often pushed to one side. The fact Zuck mentions this so often could mean he’s nostalgic for the naive years of Facebook’s genesis, when appearing in front of a panel of Senators would have seemed like a remote possibility. It may also have been a preplanned move designed to make him appear more human at the hearing.

At two points during yesterday’s hearing, Zuck wanted to get on with the questioning and not take a break. The hearing went on for almost two hours before Zuckerberg was offered a chance to halt for a few minutes. ‘You can do a few more,’ he said. ‘You want to keep going?’ Senator Thune replied. ‘Maybe 15 minutes. Does that work?’ was Zuck’s response Zuck then powered on before trying to work through another break. When asked if he wanted to take more questions later rather than a break, he said: ‘That was pretty good. So alright.’

The tech tycoon made the hearing laugh on at least two occasions – although they may have been giggling at him, rather than with him – and even joined in from time to time. When Senator Sullivan suggested his journey from ‘dorm room to global behemoth’ could only happen in America, Mark instead praised Chinese tech companies and said: ‘Senator, mostly in America.’ ‘You’re supposed to answer yes,’ Sullivan replied. ‘I’m trying to help you.’ He also smiled when Senator Kennedy greeted him by saying: ‘I come in peace.’ Zuck didn’t exactly have the audience rolling in their seats and didn’t really crack many out and out jokes. He drew laughter when asked if Facebook was a monopoly, to which he replies: ‘It doesn’t feel like that to me.’

Mark Zuckerberg appeared to have taken his booster seat into the hearing, which may be linked to the fact he’s only 5’7″ tall. He sat on the cushion throughout proceedings to give his height a bit of a boost. It appeared to be at least six inches tall.

As far as we know, the Facebook founder did not carry the cushion in with him, meaning that one of his minions probably placed it there before the hearing began. This could mean it does not reflect his insecurity and was put there on the advice of one of his team. There are many practical and psychological reasons why a few more inches would be useful, which means the booster could have been put there on the advice of experts rather than on the orders of a pint-sized tech titan worried everyone would laugh at his tininess. It’s impossible to say for sure, so we’ll leave it up to you to decide.

(a) Describe how virtue ethics can be applied to this case. (10 marks)

(b) Describe how Kohlberg’s theory of moral development can be applied to this case. (6 marks)


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