Tech

Missing From Facebook's Crisis: Mark Zuckerberg

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When a former engineer revealed a pattern of sexual harassment at Uber last year, Travis Kalanick, then the company’s chief executive, said he would immediately open an investigation.

When users complained about bugs and problems with the Apple Maps app in 2012, Tim Cook, the company’s chief executive, released a statement that said “we fell short.”

And in 2011, when Netflix tried to split off its mail-order DVD business into a company called Qwikster, its chief executive, Reed Hastings, wrote a letter to the public. “I messed up,” he said. “I owe everyone an explanation.”

But in the past week, as Facebook plunged into a crisis over how Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that provided voter-targeting services to the Trump campaign, improperly obtained data on 50 million Facebook users, Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s chief executive, said, well, nothing.

Neither Mr. Zuckerberg nor Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has made any public appearances this week. Mr. Zuckerberg’s last public post on Facebook was a March 2 photo of himself and his wife, Priscilla Chan, baking hamantaschen cookies to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim; Ms. Sandberg’s most recent post was a four-day-old photo from her child’s debate competition.

Facebook employees have described a tense atmosphere in which some joked about selling their stock in the company before it took another dip. The company has lost about $50 billion in market value in the last couple of days. Over the past few months, as criticism of the company’s role in the 2016 election has escalated, some employees have sought to transfer to other divisions of the company, such as WhatsApp and Instagram, calling their work on Facebook’s main product “demoralizing.”

On Monday, The New York Times reported that Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer, was slated to leave the company in August after disagreements with other top executives over the handling of Russia’s exploitation of Facebook’s platform during the 2016 election season. On Tuesday, Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, posted a tweet that read, “It is time. #deletefacebook.” Mr. Acton did not return a request for comment.

Two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential, said that Mr. Zuckerberg planned to address the Cambridge Analytica situation and the larger data privacy issues with a public statement on Wednesday. The statement will be aimed at rebuilding trust with users, one of the people said. In the past week, one of the people said, Mr. Zuckerberg has spent significant time hunkered down with a small group of engineers to discuss how to make Facebook’s users more secure, with more control of their data.

Kate Losse, an early Facebook employee and Mr. Zuckerberg’s former speechwriter, said that the Cambridge Analytica controversy was different from previous Facebook privacy scandals, in that it was about an issue at the core of the company’s business model that will not be easily remedied: the disclosure of Facebook data to outside sources through its third-party developer platform.

“My guess is that what is giving Zuckerberg pause at this point is the question of how to acknowledge and explain this state of affairs while at the same time mitigating the concerns that will come from people finally understanding how this all worked,” she said.

Mr. Zuckerberg is no stranger to speaking out during times of company crisis. In 2006, users rebelled after Facebook introduced the first version of its news feed, which showed users for the first time what their friends were doing on the social network. As groups formed to protest what they felt was an incursion on their privacy, Mr. Zuckerberg posted a peacemaking note on his Facebook page.

“Calm down. Breathe. We hear you,” he wrote.

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