Nine months ago, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a conversation with a journalist about privacy on his behemoth social media platform. Now, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, his words seem both ironic and prescient.
“Of course, privacy is extremely important, and people engage and share their content and feel free to connect because they know that their privacy is going to be protected” on Facebook, Zuckerberg told Freakonomics Radio host Stephen Dunbar in June, according to a transcript of the interview shared with CNBC Make It.
Dunbar interviewed Zuckerberg in a trailer outside an event space in Chicago, where Zuckerberg had just addressed a few hundred people announcing a new mission for the company.
“For the past 10 years, our mission has been to make the world more open and connected. We will always work to give people a voice and help us stay connected, but now we will do even more…. The idea for our new mission is: ‘Bring the world closer together,'” said Zuckerberg in his speech.
As part of the announcement, Zuckerberg said Facebook would share aggregated data about people in a group with the administrator of the group — “basic demographics,” Zuckerberg told Dunbar at the time.
The Freakonomics host pressed Zuckerberg: “But I’m sure there are people who want you to share much more data about your users. Yes?”
Yes, said Zuckerberg, and there are also people who want don’t want Facebook to share more data. As CEO, Zuckerberg said he knows he can’t make everyone happy.
“One of the interesting challenges that you find running a company or a community at scale is there are people who want things that are completely conflicting,” says Zuckerberg. “So there are certain people who want us to share more information, and then there are a lot of people who really don’t.
“For some of these social decisions that we have to make, I find that the right place to be is when you’re getting yelled at from both sides equally. And you try to just make the best decision that you can on this,” he said.
Now, Zuckerberg is indeed getting yelled at from almost every direction.
Zuckerberg and Facebook are being taken to task since it was revealed in March that 50 million Facebook profiles were mined for data by the British analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. Many, like Apple CEO Tim Cook, argue Facebook should have regulated itself more carefully. (When pressed as to what Cook would do in Zuckerberg’s position, he said, “I wouldn’t be in this position.”) Others, like Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk, don’t trust Facebook, Musk saying it “gives him the willies.” And Congressional lawmakers have called on Zuckerberg to testify on Capitol Hill to answer for the data breach: “The buck stops with him,” Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” in March.
In June, the 33-year-old billionaire told Freaknomics Radio that there are reasonable cases for privacy and for making some amount of data public.
Protecting privacy encourages users to share, Zuckerberg said. But also, giving Facebook community builders access to some amount of aggregated data can better help them bring people together.
“If you’re trying to enable people to build communities, giving them some insights into how people engage in their communities in a anonymized way … can help them do their job, and help bring more people together, and help people’s lives as well,” said Zuckerberg. “So you try to just do the best that you can and know that there’s not always a simple and optimal solution.”
Further, social norms shift, said Zuckerberg.
“And another dynamic that’s interesting is that sometimes the balance of what people want shifts over time and that enables opportunities to do more in one direction or the other, that wouldn’t have made sense before,” he explained.
Meanwhile, in another interview conducted Friday, Zuckerberg said pointedly that Facebook, which launched in 2004, didn’t invest enough in security during its early years. He also said the company is working on changing that.
“When we started, we thought about how good it would be if people could connect, if everyone had a voice. Frankly, we didn’t spend enough time investing in, or thinking through, some of the downside uses of the tools. So for the first 10 years of the company, everyone was just focused on the positive,” said Zuckerberg, speaking with Vox’s Ezra Klein, according to a transcript of the conversation.
“I think now people are appropriately focused on some of the risks and downsides as well. And I think we were too slow in investing enough in that. It’s not like we did nothing. I mean, at the beginning of last year, I think we had 10,000 people working on security. But by the end of this year, we’re going to have 20,000 people working on security,” Zuckerberg said.