Co-founder of Facebook forerunner Harvard Connection says Facebook was ‘duped’ in the recent scandal

March 23, 2018
  • Divya Narendra, co-founder of Harvard Connection, does not think Facebook is responsible for Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of data.
  • “You have to buy in to that very long chain to come to the conclusion that Facebook is somehow responsible for the deeds of a consulting firm,” he says.
  • Narendra says he thinks Zuckerberg genuinely wants to repair the data situation.

Divya Narendra, co-founder of Harvard Connection, the service that was a forerunner to Facebook, does not think Facebook is responsible for Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of data.

“There’s a long chain of logic from accessing this data to swaying an election,” Narendra told CNBC during an exclusive interview on “Fast Money Halftime Report” on Thursday. “You have to buy in to that very long chain to come to the conclusion that Facebook is somehow responsible for the deeds of a consulting firm.”

“It sounds like they were duped more than anything,” said Narendra, CEO and co-founder of SumZero, a platform where investment professionals can share research and investment ideas.

Narendra co-founded Harvard Connection, which became ConnectU, with Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in 2002, while still a student at Harvard.

The following year the trio approached classmate Mark Zuckerberg about joining the team. Narendra and the Winklevoss twins took Zuckerberg to court for alleged intellectual property infringement after he founded Facebook. Zuckerberg ultimately settled the case for $65 million.

The Facebook CEO broke his silence yesterday, apologizing for the scandal that enabled a data analytics firm to improperly gain access to the personal information of 50 million Facebook users.

In a Facebook blog post, Zuckerberg wrote, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”

But stock still stumbled considerably. Facebook lost approximately $50 billion in market value in the last four days.

Some thought Zuckerberg waited too long to speak publicly about the scandal, while others said he should resign.

“It’s just bananas,” said Narendra, whose holding in Facebook is the largest in his investment portfolio. Asking Zuckerberg to step down from Facebook is “totally disconnected from reality,” he said.

“When you’re a CEO, words actually matter,” he said. “Taking the extra time to access what the facts actually are, is a much better tactic than just getting out there and making statements without even knowing what actually transpired.”

While Narendra said he thinks his former classmate “has a genuine desire to solve the problem,” he also admitted that “policing every aspect of that industry is really hard.”

“If you think about the profile information that they’re working with: it’s likes and dislikes. It’s maybe your age, things like that. It’s not your credit card info or some of the data that other companies have access to, that people don’t even talk about.”

At the end of 2017, Facebook had more than two billion users around the globe, according to Statista, an online market research and statistics website.

Still, many users were angered by the news after The New York Times and the Guardian’s Observer reported the news over the weekend, saying that Facebook knew about the misuse of data in 2015 but did not notify users.

The hashtag #DeleteFacebook began circulating online.

But Narendra thinks Facebook will continue to be the dominant social network site around the world, as long as it continues to innovate with new forms of technology.

“This is a company that is very young,” Narendra said, and pointed out that it has continually beat earnings expectations and made huge leaps in acquisitions with things like Instagram.

“Nobody was even talking about privacy and data issues until after the election, until after [President Donald] Trump got elected,” Narendra said. “I could easily see a scenario where it wasn’t as big a priority to them as it is now.”

Narendra said Zuckerberg and most of his team by nature — and to a greater extent Silicon Valley — are liberal, and said Facebook is a “neutral” platform.

“The idea that they’re being accused of swaying an election in favor of Trump has got to be surreal,” he said.

The social media giant has said they have 15,000 people working on security, which Narendra called “espionage 2.0.”

“Does Boeing … Does J.P. Morgan have that many people focused on security?” he said. “Just the investments they’re making alone in terms of staff says a lot and sort of speaks for itself.”

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