'I'm really sorry': Mark Zuckerberg has been apologising for privacy lapses since before Facebook even began
They say “sorry” is one of the hardest words to say, but Mark Zuckerberg seems to have no problems uttering it. Ever since 2003 when his hot-or-not website at Harvard landed him in hot water, the co-founder of Facebook has been quick to offer up a mea culpa when trying to placate irate users. His latest expression of remorse came in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. During an interview with CNN, he took responsibility for the social network's policies that enabled an app to gain access to the personal information of 50 million users without their consent. "This was a major breach of trust, and I'm really sorry that this happened," Mr Zuckerberg said on Wednesday night. What history has shown is that the issue of users' privacy is a recurring theme in many of the Facebook founder's contrite statements. 'I apologise for any harm done' Mr Zuckerberg's first foray into social media that garnered negative headlines in November 2003 was a project he undertook at Harvard. It was a Tuesday night and he wanted “something to occupy my mind”. By the end of the week, he had created Facemash, a site showing the profile pictures of students and asking viewers to vote for the "hotter" of two randomly chosen photos. At a glance | When Facebook was born... The website went viral on campus, drawing praise from some and outrage from others. By the time complaints from individuals and student groups prompted Mr Zuckerberg to take it offline, there had been 450 visitors who had voted on photos at least 22,000 times. “I don’t see how it can go back online. Issues about violating people’s privacy don’t seem to be surmountable. The primary concern is hurting people’s feelings,” Mr Zuckerberg told the Crimson newspaper. “I’m not willing to risk insulting anyone.” In a letter of apology, he said: “I hope you understand, this is not how I meant for things to go, and I apologise for any harm done as a result of my neglect to consider how quickly the site would spread and its consequences thereafter ... I definitely see how my intentions could be seen in the wrong light.” 'We really messed this one up' It's hard to remember a time when the News Feed on Facebook didn't exist, but its launch proved controversial. In September 2006, shortly before Mr Zuckerberg lifted the student-only restriction and opened it up to anyone over the age of 13, Facebook trialled a new feature called the News Feed in which the posts from users' friends were collated. What Facebook used to look like: in pictures Responding to the feedback in a blog post called "Calm down. Breathe. We hear you", Mr Zuckerberg wrote: "We didn’t take away any privacy options. [Your privacy options remain the same.] The privacy rules haven’t changed. None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn’t see it before the changes." Three days later, he went further. "We really messed this one up," he started by saying in a new post. "We did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. "We didn't build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I'm sorry for it." He said they had corrected their mistakes. 'We simply did a bad job' Remember Beacon? Probably not. In 2007, Facebook introduced an advertising system which inserted details of purchases made at participating websites into the news feed of Facebook users, making it visible to all their friends. It was intended as a way to make money for the site as well as prove useful to users. But it backfired. Facebook users complained they hadn't received enough information about the service, and claimed that it invaded their privacy. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them,” Zuckerberg admitted in a blog post. “We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologise for it. Mark Zuckerberg smiles at his office in Palo Alto in 2007 "Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better." Two years later, after a group of Facebook users filed a class-action lawsuit against the social-networking site, Facebook shut down Beacon, and donated $9.5 million to a foundation dedicated to exploring the issues around online privacy and security. 'We will keep listening' In May 2010, privacy issues again plagued Facebook. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook and several other social-networking sites were sending data to advertising companies that could be used to find consumers' names and other personal details - contrary to promises that such information is not shared without permission. Responding to the concerns, Mr Zuckerberg wrote an article in the Washington Post, promising to "add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services". Timeline | Facebook’s rise “Facebook has evolved from a simple dorm-room project to a global social network connecting millions of people,” he wrote. “We will keep building, we will keep listening, and we will continue to have a dialogue with everyone who cares enough about Facebook to share their ideas.” 'We're making mistakes' The next big controversy to hit the social network is one that continues to haunt it. In November 2016, days after the US presidential election, Mr Zuckerberg dismissed concerns about the influence of fake news on Facebook. “Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” he said. "People are smart and they understand what’s important to them.” Three months later, he changed his tune slightly. “We’ve seen this in misclassifying hate speech in political debates in both directions–taking down accounts and content that should be left up and leaving up content that was hateful and should be taken down,” he wrote in a 5,000-word manifesto. “Both the number of issues and their cultural importance has increased recently.” Zuckerberg adds: “This has been painful for me because I often agree with those criticising us that we’re making mistakes.” He said has also noticed that “people share stories based on sensational headlines without ever reading the story”. In September that year, he goes further and takes back his initial comments. “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive,” he wrote in a Facebook post. That month, he also asks for forgiveness on the last day of Yom Kippur. “For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better," he wrote on Facebook. "For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask for forgiveness and I will work to do better.” 'I'm sorry to anyone this offended' A month hadn't even passed when he was apologising again. This time it was unrelated to fake news. Instead, he was responding to the outcry when he posted a "tasteless" video that showed him touring flooded Puerto Rican streets in virtual reality in the wake of Hurricane Maria. In a 10-minute-long video, animated versions of Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, Facebook's head of social video, are seen chatting and discussing the social network's latest venture against the backdrop of a devastated Puerto Rico. Mark Zuckerberg posted the video to promote his charitable work in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico Credit: Facebook The clip was meant to showcase Facebook's partnerships with NetHope and American Red Cross, which were helping rebuild areas hit by the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century. But critics called the video "thoughtless" and "uncaring". Zuckerberg later apologised on Facebook. "My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what's happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery. "Reading some of the comments, I realise this wasn't clear, and I'm sorry to anyone this offended." 'It was my mistake' Mr Zuckerberg insisted he is still the right person to lead the company as it revealed 87 million users could have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In a rare conference call with journalists, the tech giant's founder and CEO admitted it "didn't do enough" to protect its users and promised that the company was now committed to taking more responsibility for keeping people's data safe. "We didn't take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is. That was a huge mistake. It was my mistake," he said at the start of the call. FAQ | Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Asked if he still thought he was the best person to lead Facebook forward, Mr Zuckerberg said "yes", adding: "I think life is about learning from your mistakes and working out what you need to do to move forward." "When you're building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world there are going to be things you mess up," he added. Apology at Congress In arguably his most-profile apology to date, Mr Zuckerberg began a two-day congressional inquisition on April 10 with a public apology for the privacy scandal that had roiled the social media giant he founded more than a decade ago. Mr Zuckerberg opened his remarks before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees by taking responsibility for failing to prevent Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm affiliated with Donald Trump's presidential campaign, from gathering personal information from 87 million users to try to influence elections. Zuckerberg had apologised many times already, to users and the public, but this was the first time in his career that he had gone before Congress. He also is to testify on Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In the hearings, Mr Zuckerberg is not only trying to restore public trust in his company but also to stave off federal regulations that some lawmakers have floated. In his opening statement to senators, he also apologized for fake news, hate speech, a lack of data privacy and Russian social media interference in the 2016 elections. "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake," he said. "It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here."