Facebook’s Zuckerberg defends encryption, despite child safety concerns

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on his way to meet with lawmakers to discuss "future internet regulation on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 19, 2019. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo)
Updated 04 October 2019

Facebook’s Zuckerberg defends encryption, despite child safety concerns

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg defended on Thursday his decision to encrypt the company’s messaging services, despite concerns about its impact on child exploitation and other criminal activity.
The United States, Britain and Australia signed an open letter earlier in the day calling for Facebook to suspend its encryption plan, saying it would hinder the fight against child abuse and terrorism.
Zuckerberg, speaking in a livestream of the company’s weekly internal Q&A session, said he had been aware of child exploitation risks before announcing his encryption plan and acknowledged that it would reduce tools to fight the problem.
“When we were deciding whether to go to end-to-end encryption across the different apps, this was one of the things that just weighed the most heavily on me,” he said.
Addressing an employee question about online child abuse, Zuckerberg acknowledged that losing access to the content of messages would mean “you’re fighting that battle with at least a hand tied behind your back.”
But he said he was “optimistic” that Facebook would be able to identify predators even in encrypted systems using the same tools it used to fight election interference, like patterns of activity and links between accounts on different platforms.
He also suggested the company might further limit the ways adults can interact with minors on Facebook’s platforms.
Zuckerberg announced his plan to pivot the company toward more private forms of communication in March, capping months of internal debate over the merits of encryption, three sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters.
Inside the company, privacy engineers and others eager to shed the legacy of the Cambridge Analytica scandal saw the move as a win, as did product managers watching the steady uptick of growth at Facebook’s encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.
But members of Facebook’s safety team familiar with the child exploitation risks argued against the plan, raising deep concerns through the group’s leaders and in large company meetings with senior executives, the sources said.
The United States, Britain and Australia said in their joint letter that they had engaged with Facebook on the issue, but that the company had not committed to addressing their “serious concerns” about the impact of its proposals.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also met with Zuckerberg and other senior leaders of Facebook, who offered assurances that child safety was important to them.


Zuckerberg appears in Congress as Facebook faces scrutiny

Updated 23 October 2019

Zuckerberg appears in Congress as Facebook faces scrutiny

  • The company seems to spark public and official anger at every turn these days
  • Lawmakers from both parties and top regulators have criticized Facebook’s plan for the new currency

WASHINGTON: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is again appearing before Congress to face questions about his company’s massive market power, privacy lapses and tolerance of speech deemed false or hateful.
Zuckerberg has been summoned to testify at a hearing Wednesday by the House Financial Services Committee on Facebook’s plan to create a global digital currency, which has stirred opposition from lawmakers and regulators in the US and Europe. But the full range of policies and conduct of the social media giant with nearly 2.5 billion users will be under the public glare.
It’s the Facebook chief’s first testimony to Congress since April 2018.
The company seems to spark public and official anger at every turn these days, from its shift into messaging services that allow encrypted conversations to its alleged anticompetitive behavior to its refusal to take down phony political ads or doctored videos.
Lawmakers from both parties and top regulators — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell — have criticized Facebook’s plan for the new currency, to be called Libra. They warn that it could be used for illicit activity such as money laundering or drug trafficking.
Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who heads the Financial Services panel, this summer asked Facebook to not move forward with the currency and a digital wallet called Calibra that would be used with it. Waters has called Libra “a new Swiss-based financial system” that potentially is too big to fail and could require a taxpayer bailout.
Several high-profile companies that had signed on as partners in Facebook’s governing association for Libra have recently bailed, spelling a potentially rough road for the project. But many experts don’t believe it’s doomed.
Zuckerberg, in written testimony prepared for the hearing, aimed to reassure lawmakers that his company won’t try to evade financial regulators as it readies Libra.
Facebook “will not be a part of launching the Libra payments system anywhere in the world unless all US regulators approve it,” he said. That’s a stronger statement than Facebook official David Marcus made to Congress in July, when he said the company will not activate Libra until it has “fully addressed regulatory concerns and received appropriate approvals.” Marcus leads the Libra project.
Zuckerberg is striving to defend Libra and alleviate concerns that the currency could sidestep regulators. Analysts say Libra could avoid regulation and launch in countries where it’s not getting pushback, but this doesn’t appear to be Facebook’s intention.
Instead, Zuckerberg is pushing an optimistic vision of Libra and what it could mean for people around the world who don’t have access to bank accounts.
While some critics see the recent exodus of some Libra partners as evidence of the plan’s likely failure, US regulators appear to view it as enough of a threat that they are considering the possibility of the Fed launching its own competitor currency.
“At the Federal Reserve, we will continue to analyze the potential benefits and costs of central bank digital currencies, and look forward to learning from other central banks,” Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s board of governors, said in a speech last week.
There is concern among regulators that the massive reserve created with money used to buy the new currency could supplant the Fed and destabilize the financial system, and that consumers could be hurt by Libra losses.
Zuckerberg also played the China card in his remarks, urging regulators to act quickly “While we debate these issues, the rest of the world isn’t waiting. China is moving quickly to launch similar ideas in the coming months,” he said.
The Facebook CEO also has cited competition from China as a compelling reason against breaking up the company.
The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee are all conducting investigations of Facebook and the other huge tech companies amid accusations of abuse of their market power to crush competition.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, has advocated breaking up Facebook and other tech behemoths. She recently ran a fake political ad on Facebook taking aim at Zuckerberg to protest the company’s policy of not fact-checking politicians’ speech or ads in the same way it enlists outside parties to fact-check news stories and other posts.
In a major speech last week at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg defended the company’s refusal to take down content from its platform it considers newsworthy “even if it goes against our standards.”
Facebook, Google and Twitter are trying to oversee Internet content while also avoiding infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence.