Mark Zuckerberg, what's your status?
After reports that as many as 50 million Facebook Inc. (FB) users might have had their data used improperly by a political research organization, the company's shares are tanking as lawmakers call for Facebook's CEO to address the scandal, and analysts express concern about the impact on Facebook's business.
Updated from 1:36 p.m. with additional information
The social media giant's stock was down more than 7% to $171.95 in afternoon trading Monday after The New York Times reported that Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan improperly gathered information from 270,000 users. Those users volunteered for a "personality test" and their information, as well as that of their Facebook friends, was shared with a group called Cambridge Analytica. The data analytics firm then allegedly used the information for its work on behalf of the 2016 election campaign of President Donald Trump.
On Monday, Facebook announced in a blog post that it had hired a digital forensics firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica to determine whether the user data, which Cambridge Analytica had previously said had been destroyed, still existed.
As users and investors watch the company's continued response to the news, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said Monday's drop "shows that people are scared."
"The stock will go down if investors believe the experience will be impaired," Pachter said. For instance, possible regulation could change the way that Facebook users are able to explore their network of friends, based on the way that personal information was allegedly gathered from that network and given to Cambridge Analytica, he said.
In its post on Monday, Facebook wrote that "we also want to be clear that today when developers create apps that ask for certain information from people, we conduct a robust review to identify potential policy violations and to assess whether the app has a legitimate use for the data." It went on to note that the app in question "would not be permitted access to detailed friends' data today."
Facebook has been plagued by security concerns recently, starting with the revelation that Russian nationals had used the site to create fake accounts and influence the 2016 election. But Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin said the latest controversy could be "the straw that might break the camel's back [for investors], ushering in regulations that impacts their business model."
However, Bajarin said he doesn't think this scandal will trigger a mass exodus of Facebook users.
"Facebook has created a web of connections that people will be reluctant to walk away from," Bajarin said.
Stifel analyst Scott Devitt wrote Monday morning that the firm maintains its hold rating on the stock after downgrading it from buy in January due, in part, to concerns that the company risked losing consumer trust. Other concerns included that changes to the platform would lead to lower engagement and decreased monetization, and that the company's management was "complacent about the legitimate platform issues being raised by reputable informed parties in Silicon Valley and elsewhere."
According to a survey of Facebook users announced by Stifel in January, 70% were concerned about how Facebook uses their personal information, and 57% said their concern increased after the "social media publicity" that followed the 2016 election.
On Twitter (TWTR) , legislators have called for Zuckerberg to appear before the Senate Judiciary in light of the reported misuse, and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani announced an investigation of the social media giant.
FTC should immediately investigate and sanction apparent breach by Facebook of its 2011 agreement guaranteeing protection of consumer info - now a hollow promise.— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) March 19, 2018
Earlier on Monday, Blumenthal tweeted that "Facebook's failure to secure privacy of private data - that it released - seems a breach of trust and even law...Judiciary Committee should hold open hearings, with Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and others, under oath and in public."
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