When Mark Zuckerberg sat down to record an episode of Freakonomics Radio’s “Secret Life of CEOs” last summer, he couldn’t have predicted every scandal that resulted in the political quagmire Facebook is navigating today.
But he did know at the time that a researcher by the name of the Aleksandr Kogan had handed over data on 50 million users to a Republican-backed political consultancy firm in violation of Facebook’s terms of service. When Facebook learned about the unauthorized data transfer back in 2015, the company ordered the data be destroyed and kept quiet about the whole ordeal, according to The New York Times.
Still, during Zuckerberg’s one-hour conversation with Freakonomics Radio’s Stephen Dubner, the CEO touted Facebook’s commitment to user privacy and suggested that is why users feel comfortable sharing information on the platform. Here are some of Zuckerberg’s comments from the podcast, released Monday:
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 the other hand, if you’re trying to enable people to build communities, giving them some insights into how people engage in their communities, in an anonymised way that isn’t sharing anything about the individuals and the communities, can help them do their job and help bring more people together and help people’s lives as well. So you try to just do the best that you can and know that there’s not always a simple and optimal solution.
If taken at face value, Zuckerberg’s claim that users share information because they trust Facebook to protect it could spell trouble for the company now that that trust has been rocked by scandal. Facebook’s reckoning certainly has investors spooked; the company has lost $100 billion in market capitalization since Feb. 2.
In an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein released Monday, Zuckerberg sounded more contrite than he did chatting with Dubner last summer.
“When we started, we thought about how good it would be if people could connect, if everyone had a voice,” he told Klein. “Frankly, we didn’t spend enough time investing in, or thinking through, some of the downside uses of the tools.”
Zuckerberg and Klein covered a wide range of topics but much of their conversation focused on how Facebook can improve and bounce back from the scandals, from unauthorized data sharing to Russian election interference. One idea floating around is charging Facebook users to fund the business instead of relying on advertising.
Apple CEO Tim Cook slammed Facebook in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes last week for selling customer data to advertisers. In response to what he would do in Zuckerberg’s shoes, Cook said “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“We could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer, if our customer was our product,” Cook said. “We’ve elected not to do that.”
Zuckerberg fired back in his interview with Klein, calling that assertion “extremely glib.” He said that Facebook relies on advertisers to keep the service free to everyone, including those who could not afford to pay for it.
But if Facebook continues to be beholden to advertisers, will the company be able to regain the trust of users? Zuckerberg is cautiously optimistic.
“I think we will dig through this hole, but it will take a few years,” he told Klein. “I wish I could solve all these issues in three months or six months, but I just think the reality is that solving some of these questions is just going to take a longer period of time.”