"Look, this is bad," Mark Zuckerberg told reporters during an impromptu conference call today. The Facebook CEO spent much of the time taking responsibility for the privacy scandals that have consumed his company recently, but he also pointed out that he's been the victim of fake news. Contrary to a recent Reuters report, he said, new controls for privacy settings required by European law will roll out globally.
Facebook has had a busy day with an assortment of announcements that included Zuckerberg's decision to testify before Congress, the release of a freshly confusing data policy, and the revelation that it lost control of the private user data of an additional 37 million users than it had previously disclosed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The hits are coming fast, and people are furious. So, Zuckerberg decided to have a conference call with the press today, as one does.
At one point, the 33-year-old CEO was asked if he would be comfortable with the kind of regulations that will soon be implemented in Europe when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect in May. A Reuters report yesterday claimed that Zuckerberg told the reporter in an interview, "the company wanted to extend privacy guarantees worldwide in spirit, but would make exceptions, which he declined to describe." On today's call, Zuckerberg took issue with how his reply was framed. Here's his response in full:
So, overall, I think regulations like the GDPR are very positive, and you know I was somewhat surprised by yesterday's Reuters story that ran on that because the reporter asked me if I was planning on... if we were planning on running the controls for GDPR across the world. And my answer was, yes. We intend to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe. Is it going to be exactly the same format? Probably not. We need to figure out what makes sense in different markets with different laws and in different places. But, but let me repeat this: We're going to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe.
Once again, Zuckerberg raises a few more questions with his answer. We've asked Facebook if it could help us understand what it meant that the controls might not necessarily be in the same format. We also asked if it could provide any hypothetical examples in which one country's laws might prevent Facebook from giving users more control over their privacy. We did not receive an immediate reply. But the important thing is that Zuckerberg went back and repeated it: "We're going to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere not just in Europe."
As usual, Zuckerberg was light on specifics, answering the bulk of questions with platitudes such as "we need to do a better job". Here's a selection of things Facebook needs to do a better job on, according to Zuckerberg:
- "I think we need to do a better job of putting [privacy] tools in front of people and not just offering them."
- "I think we can certainly do a better job of explaining what we actually do."
- "So I think that we could certainly do a better job of trying to explain [we don't sell people's data] and make things understandable."
- "I think we need to do a better job of explaining the principles that the service operates under."
- "They call out us out on it and, frankly, they're right: [Fake news and hate speech] shouldn't be there, and you know, we should do a better job of doing that now."
The one thing Zuckerberg had a definitive answer on is the question of whether he might be on his way out of his leadership position at Facebook. The first time the question was broached, he was asked if the board of directors has discussed whether he should step down as chairman. There was a long pause. "Uh, not that I'm aware of," Zuckerberg responded. An even longer pause ensued. He had nothing to add. Later, he was asked if he feels that he's still the best person to run Facebook. "I mean, I think life is about learning from mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward," he said. Zuckerberg feels that, as someone who's made a lot of mistakes, he's uniquely qualified to continue carrying the torch of this business philosophy.