Mark Zuckerberg: It's not hard to align Facebook's interests with user interests

The Facebook CEO brushed aside the notion that Facebook has to rein in its quest for profit in order to restore user trust.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

In a rare move, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday took nearly an hour's worth of questions from reporters to talk about the social network's handling of user data and its influence on global events.

In recent weeks, a steady stream of bad news about Facebook has called into question whether users -- and shareholders -- should trust that the company is headed in the right direction. Most recently, Facebook acknowledged that as many as 87 million users may have had their information "improperly shared" with the shady data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg on Wednesday said that the company has yet to see any meaningful dropoff from Facebook users or advertisers.

"I don't think there's been any meaningful impact that we've observed," he said.

He did, however, acknowledge that Facebook up to this point hasn't taken a broad enough view of its responsibility to protect user data and prevent abuse of the platform. "That was a huge mistake, that was my mistake," he said.

Zuckerberg reiterated the steps the company is taking to limit freewheeling use of user data, but he brushed aside the notion that Facebook has to rein in its quest for profit in order to restore user trust.

"The thing that makes our product challenging to manage and operate are not the tradeoffs between people and the business," Zuckerberg said.

Facebook brought in more than $40 billion revenue in 2017, thanks to the trove of valuable data advertisers can exploit on its platform. While some people may be uncomfortable with the way Facebook mines user information to help advertisers, Zuckerberg said, "The feedback is overwhelmingly on the side of wanting a better experience."

In fact, he said that based on user feedback, probably only about 5 percent of Facebook users are more concerned about data privacy than having a good experience on the platform.

"People tell us if they're going to see ads, they want the ads to be good," he said. "I think we're doing the right thing to seve people best."

The real challenge, Zuckerberg said, isn't balancing user interests with business interests, but balancing the competing interests of different users.

"All the hard decisions we have to make are tradeoffs between people," he said. "Different people who use Facebook have different interests. Some people want to share political speech they feel is valid, and some people feel it's hate speech. These are real values questions and tradeoffs."

While the CEO thinks the vast majority of users don't mind the way his company serves up ads, he did acknowledge there are "many misconceptions" about the business.

"For some reason, we haven't been able to kick this notion... that we sell data to advertisers. We don't," he said.

While that technically may be true, Zuckerberg implicitly acknowledged that advertisers can leverage a great deal of personal information from the platform. Still, he said, "The vast majority of the data... you chose to share it."

While the company is tinkering with its policies to avoid further "misuse" of data from third parties, Zuckerberg said unequivocally that he's still the right person to lead the company.

"I think life is about learning from the mistakes you've made and figuring out what you need to do to move forward," he said. "The reality... is when you're building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things you mess up."

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