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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg this weekend took another shot at convincing everyone the controversial social networking platform has finally learned its lesson and is determined to earn back the world’s trust.
Sandberg was speaking at the annual DLD Conference in Munich, Germany. While onstage, she announced that the company would donate $7.5 million for the creation of The Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence. And she unveiled a partnership with the German government around election security.
But in terms of her larger mission, did she change any minds? Watch the 20-minute talk here and see if you are persuaded by this latest act of contrition:
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Here is a little summary and some highlights from Sandberg’s remarks:
“We need both optimism and courage,” she said. “Because not everyone shares the values we stand for. The very idea of an open and connected world, where people can use technology to empower themselves, is in some ways under attack from people who want to spread misinformation, from hackers who want personal gain, from countries who want to interfere with elections, or want to quiet voices or control their own people.”
“At Facebook, these last few years have been really difficult,” Sandberg said. “We know we need to do better at making sure we can contain the risks that come from connecting so many people. We need to stop abuse more quickly, and we need to do more to protect people’s data. Trust is fundamental to the work we do, and we need to earn back people’s trust.”
She listed five areas were Facebook is focused on making improvements:
- Safety: The company now has 30,000 people working in this area, 3 times more than in 2017. And it’s building new technology, including using AI, to more quickly identify issues. “If you want to know what a company cares about, look at where it’s spending its money,” Sandberg said “We are spending billions of dollars a year on security.”
- Election interference: She acknowledged that Facebook failed in 2016 to understand how the threat had shifted from governments trying to access information to governments using the platform to sow dissent and spread misinformation. She pointed to the new German partnership on elections and said the company continues to scrutinize groups and pages to ferret out bad actors.
- Fake accounts: “We’re blocking more than 1 million fake accounts every day, sometimes just when they are created,” she said.
- Data protection: “We did not do a good job managing our platform,” Sandberg said. “People trust us with their data, and we have to protect it.”
- Transparency: “It allows other people to hold us accountable,” she said, noting that the company has rolled out new tools that allow people to see who is running ads.
Somewhat awkwardly, Sandberg also touched on the issue of regulation, saying the company understands that it’s likely headed toward an era in which fear of big tech companies is going to lead to new restrictions. She said Facebook would support the “right” regulations and added that governments have a role to play in protecting citizens. Of course, it seems doubtful many governments were seeking Facebook’s permission to regulate it, or asking it to validate the existence of elected representatives.
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