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Mark Zuckerberg leaks his own meeting

October 3 · Issue #395 · View online
The Interface
When I said that I would have more to share from Mark Zuckerberg’s employee Q&A sessions for you in the newsletter this week, I didn’t think it would go like this.
Three days after we published leaked audio from a pair of July meetings inside Facebook, Zuckerberg decided to live-stream Thursday’s all-hands meeting to show the rest of the world what they really look like. And that meant including everything — the “fix of the week,” in which someone describes resolving some technical issue in the product; a “Faceversary” story, in which someone celebrating 10 years at the company gets to tell a story on stage; and the closing message, in which a slick marketing video highlights an inspirational person who is using Facebook products to positive ends.
In between, there were questions and answers from real, live Facebook employees, who mostly seemed unembarrassed to be asking their questions in front of a global audience. (Extra points to the WhatsApp engineer who managed to ask two questions during the session, the latter of which — “what do you think of Bernie Sanders’ comment that billionaires shouldn’t exist?” — was maybe the most provocative of the day. (Zuckerberg’s answer, which was basically “no,” will also surely spur a round of thought pieces around the web in coming days.)
The context for all this, as Zuckerberg explained in preliminary remarks at the top of the meeting, was a sense that our leak had inadvertently exposed the fact that he tends to perform better in front of employees than he does with journalists. “I do interviews, and I’m just, like, the worst in interviews,” he said, as employees laughed. “I’m robotic, and I don’t think in sound bites.” He joked about the kinds of questions he gets: “Where do you go to plug yourself in at night to recharge?”
Zuckerberg said the company had been surprised by the leak, as it has been the first time in company history that an all-hands meeting had been recorded and shared with the media. (“A blog,” as Zuckerberg called The Verge!)
“I think a lot of us internally were pretty shocked by that,” he said. “We want to be able to continue doing these, and have them be open. But then we had the second reaction which is, hey, you know, all the content that’s in there — we stand behind. And maybe I said that in a little bit more unfiltered of a way than I would say it externally, but fundamentally we believe everything we said that was in there.”
People have told him for years that public perception of the company would improve if more members of the public could see him the way he is in Q&As, he said. And so he decided to broadcast this week’s event. “This was an interesting forcing function,” Zuckerberg said of my work, which is definitely going on my Facebook Dating bio.
“I do such a bad job at interviews, it’s like, what do we have to lose?” Zuckerberg said, and the audience laughed and applauded.
Zuckerberg talked about the company’s commitment to encryption in light of the news today that the US attorney general wanted the company to delay its plans to roll out end-to-end encryption across its messaging apps. He lamented a ruling in the European Union’s top court that could force Facebook to take down content that is found to be libelous outside the country where the ruling is made, in a blow to free speech.
To the employee who asked whether Facebook would ever lose relevance, Zuckerberg explained that most of the biggest companies in any given decade are no longer in the top 10 biggest companies by the next decade. The odds are against Facebook, he said, though the company is working hard to overcome them.  
To the employee who asked how Facebook Dating was going, he explained that 80 percent of people who used it in test countries came back every week, giving the company the confidence to launch it in the United States several weeks ago. It continues to grow, Zuckerberg said, but he wouldn’t say how fast, citing the team’s wishes.
There was the should-billionaires-exist question, which Zuckerberg answered fairly directly by saying no. But he defended the system that lets some private individuals grow wealthy enough to invest in scientific research, saying that the alternative — 100 percent public funding — had problems of its own.
To the employee who worried about this weekend’s New York Times report about the use of social platforms to spread child exploitation imagery, he explained the steps that the company has taken to address the problem so far and committed to doing much more before Facebook attempts to encrypt Messenger messages by default.
Then someone asked him about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who had gone after Zuckerberg after reading the remarks he made in our earlier report. How would Zuckerberg remain “impartial” given the dust-up? “God,” he said, laughing to himself. “Try not to antagonize her further.”
I found his response, which was quite long, somewhat hard to follow. There were two parts to it: one about “principles,” in which he said that he cared much more about giving people a voice regardless of an individual policy outcome. So by that logic, he wouldn’t (say) artificially down-rank Warren’s traffic if she posted about breaking up Facebook, because he prizes democratic debate above all. The second point was about “empathy” — realizing that, because of Facebook’s vast size and power, people heavily depend on what happens there, and often assume that it is biased.
“It’s a real moment for at least understanding where a lot of the people are coming from,” He said. “That’s going to be the primary thing. We want everyone to have a voice. This is a good learning moment to remember that.”
Then someone asked him if Facebook would ever hold a hackathon for climate change and he said that it already had.
On the whole, I’d say the surprise broadcast succeeded on the terms Zuckerberg set for him. It did, in fact, show him looser and in a better mood than he usually appears when being interviewed by the likes of me. He moved confidently around the room. His jokes landed.
Some people assumed the event was overly staged, but Zuckerberg said they had only informed most people that it would be public 15 minutes before the broadcast aired, and having listened to both the private recording and watched the public broadcast I was struck by how little difference there was between them. There was an honesty to the event that resonated. “I’m not making any promises to do this again in the future,” Zuckerberg said, but everything went well enough that I could easily see him doing just that.
When the afternoon’s questions all ended, the slick marketing video that had been queued up began to play. The first image it showed on the screen was a small group of Facebook users splashing around in the water. It turned out they were swimming with sharks.

The Ratio
Attorney General William Barr asked Facebook to delay plans to roll out encrypted messaging across its family of apps, citing safety concerns. The letter was signed by Barr’s counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia, and it could set up a major battle over encryption. The new move is to focus on child safety rather than terrorism as a pretext. Ryan Mac and Joe Bernstein report:
“Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world,” the letter reads. “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.”
The letter calls on Facebook to prioritize public safety in designing its encryption by enabling law enforcement to gain access to illegal content in a manageable format and by consulting with governments ahead of time to ensure the changes will allow this access. While the letter acknowledges that Facebook — which owns Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram — captures 99% of child exploitation and terrorism-related content through its own systems, it also notes that “mere numbers cannot capture the significance of the harm to children.”
Facebook can be forced to take down libelous comments internationally, according to a new ruling from the EU’s top court. The decision came after an Austrian politician requested an order that would force Facebook to remove comments that harmed her reputation. Here’s Makena Kelly at The Verge:
In its ruling, the European Court of Justice affirms that companies like Facebook and Twitter are not liable for the content posted on their platforms, but that exemption does not prohibit the courts from ordering the companies to take down illegal content. Late last month, this same court ruled that Google doesn’t need to remove links taken down from “right to be forgotten” requests worldwide. But illegal content can be limited internationally, according to Thursday’s Facebook ruling.
Facebook opposed the ruling. “This judgment raises critical questions around freedom of expression and the role that internet companies should play in monitoring, interpreting and removing speech that might be illegal in any particular country,” the company said in a statement.
Sen. Kamala Harris wrote a letter to CEO Jack Dorsey asking him to ban Trump from Twitter. Harris cited the president’s recent Twitter rants against the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment case; New York’s tech team discussed the merits of her argument. (Brian Feldman, Benjamin Hart and Max Read / Intelligencer)
Silicon Valley appears to be warming to Elizabeth Warren, despite her largely anti-industry sentiment. Warren still intends to break up big tech companies — but she is accepting small checks from tech executives. (Theodore Schleifer / Recode)
Snap and Twitter have been so successful this year that it could threaten the government’s antitrust case against Facebook. Both have reported strong revenue growth, sending their stock prices soaring. (Tom Dotan / The Information)
Facebook reached a settlement with a New Zealand app developer peddling fake likes on Instagram. The developer could pay as much as $9.4 million, a win for Facebook’s recently invigorated efforts to fight fraudulent third-party developers. (Tony Romm / The Washington Post)
The Department of Homeland Security announced a controversial plan to start DNA testing immigrants and entering their information into a criminal database. The plan could harm people booked at immigration detention centers around the country. (Zoe Schiffer / The Verge)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is embracing big data in its efforts to track down people who’ve entered the country illegally. Increasingly, the agency is developing intelligence based on their targets’ social media accounts. (McKenzie Funk / The New York Times)
Hong Kong has banned face masks at public gatherings, enacting an emergency ordinance that hadn’t been used in half a century. The move comes after a protester was shot in the latest round of pro-democracy protests on Tuesday. (Iain Marlow / Bloomberg)
French president Emmanuel Macron is rolling out a new digital identity program that uses facial recognition technology. But the country’s data regulator says the program breaches the European rule of consent, and a privacy group is challenging it in court. (Helene Fouquet / Bloomberg)
Instagram launched Threads, a standalone messaging app for close friends. It’s a companion app for Instagram that lets you quickly share messages, photos, and videos with your “close friends” list. It’s also encourages you to continuously share your location and other intimate details with friends, I wrote here for The Verge:
Or — and here’s what Instagram actually wants — you can opt in to “auto status,” which will refresh your status throughout the day as you move about your life. It will learn when you’re at home and at work, for example, and update accordingly. Instagram says it won’t store your exact location, but rather uses the information to create “context.” If you’re at home, you might want to go out, the thinking goes; if you’re at work, you’re probably stuck for a while.
If you do that, Threads will collect your location, movement, battery level, and network connection in order to determine what status to share.
That’s a lot of data to give up, and after years of Facebook scandals related to data privacy issues, some users might find that the trade-off isn’t worth it. But it’s also worth noting that other messaging apps, most notably Snapchat, essentially ask for the same permissions. Snapchat won’t generate an automatic status for you throughout the day, but it will put you on a map with all your friends if you let it. Ultimately, whether you opt in to features like these depends heavily on whether your social circle does.
“A study of 1,769 U.S. undergrads found that those who got off Facebook for a week consumed less news, experienced greater wellbeing…and, uh, valued Facebook 20 percent more highly, in monetary terms, than they had before they took their break.” (Laura Hazard Owen / Nieman Lab)
Saudi Arabia is bankrolling luxury vacations for Instagram and YouTube influencers in an effort to repair its tattered reputation. The country is trying to build a tourism industry from scratch, but that’s hard when you’re best known for human rights violations and murdering a dissident journalist. (Bill Bostock / Insider)
Google pledged to provide 250,000 job training opportunities to American workers over the next five years as part of a White House initiative to expand educational programs. CEO Sundar Pichai made the announcement alongside Ivanka Trump in Texas. (Lauren Feiner / CNBC)
YouTube is experimenting with a “self-certification” program that lets creators report their own videos if the content isn’t advertiser-friendly. The goal is to give creators more control over the video-monetization process. (Richard Nieva / CNET)
TikTok exists outside of time — videos don’t have timestamps, allowing them to go viral weeks or even months after they were posted. The app also covers the time displayed on your phone, meaning you can quickly lose track of the hours you’ve spent scrolling, the author notes. (Louise Matsakis / Wired)
Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey created an autonomous battering-ram drone. Made by Luckey’s defense company, Anduril, the Interceptor is designed to destroy other drones mid-flight. (Russell Brandom / The Verge)
And finally ...
Nickelback brings a swift end to Trump ‘Photograph’ tweet
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