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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Won’t Let Controversies Crush Optimism

May 1, 2018, 10:01 PM UTC

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t going to let Facebook-related controversies like its repeated data privacy problems and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections ruin his hopefulness.

The executive of one of the world’s biggest technology companies told an audience of software developers on Tuesday that both Facebook and developers “have real challenges to address, but we have to keep that sense of optimism too.”

Speaking at Facebook’s (FB) annual F8 developer conference, Zuckerberg kicked things off by lightheartedly stating the obvious, “This has been an intense year.”

Zuckerberg, of course, spent the past year facing intense criticism for failing to prevent Russian entities from spreading propaganda on the social network. More recently, he attended two congressional hearings during which he fielded lawmakers questions about how Facebook let an academic obtain user data and then sell it to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

“I can’t believe we’re only four months in,” Zuckerberg said in jest.

Reiterating comments he made during recent media briefings, congressional hearings, and Facebook’s latest quarterly earnings announcements, Zuckerberg reminded the audience of all the steps the company is doing to remedy its recent problems. Some of these include using artificial intelligence tools to automatically identify propaganda efforts similar to those allegedly carried out by Russia-linked groups in upcoming world elections, and boosting its security and content review team to 20,000 by the end of the year.

A more recent change, Zuckerberg detailed on Tuesday, involves letting people delete a history of the websites they may have visited from Facebook as well as the cookies companies use to track people across multiple sites. This Clear History feature is a standard tool in popular web browsers, but has been noticeably absent in Facebook prior to its wave of data privacy scandals.

But even though Facebook is taking steps to fix a number of problems with its service (Zuckerberg has described those fixes as his personal goal for 2018), his speech mainly focused on why Facebook and developers must move forward by constantly creating new features and products.

“The hardest decision that I made this year wasn’t to invest so much in safety and security—that decision was easy,” Zuckerberg said. “The hard part was figuring out a way to move forward on everything else we need to do too.”

Facebook has a mission to connect people to each other, Zuckerberg explained, and it won’t stop building tools that do so. With that, he summarized a handful of new Facebook products like a new dating service, augmented reality and virtual reality gadgets like its new Oculus Go headset, and new ways to video chat with friends on the Facebook-owned photo sharing service Instagram.

Clearly, Facebook can’t stop investing in new tools to attract more users and keep them glued to its service. Any signs of slowing growth would worry investors and send its stock plummeting.

But, these new tools—especially a service for dating, in which people can be at their most vulnerable with one another—come at a precarious time for Facebook. As lawmakers told Zuckerberg during the second day of his congressional hearing, Facebook has repeatedly apologized over data privacy mishaps followed by further missteps. It’s difficult to tell if the company takes the issue seriously beyond basic lip service.

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Zuckerberg, seemingly aware that debuting a dating service after the numerous data privacy problems, said that Facebook designed the dating app “with privacy and safety from the beginning.” As Facebook’s recent scandals have shown, the company tends to underestimate how bad actors can manipulate its service, so people will have to take Zuckerberg’s word that the company built the dating service while anticipating how personal data could potentially be leaked.

And yet, Zuckerberg admitted earlier in his speech that Facebook is not perfect and that the company “will make mistakes and they will have consequences and we will need to fix them.”

It’s a tricky balancing act that Facebook is playing as it continues to build products that are powered by people’s personal data. And it’s not going to get any easier as Facebook continues to forge ahead—no matter how optimistic Zuckerberg is about Facebook’s future.