Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook has been an 'innovator in privacy'

Key Points
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is an "innovator in privacy" despite criticisms of the company's own lapses.
  • In a discussion with Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain, Zuckerberg said Facebook has long been focused on private messaging.
  • Zuckerberg said encrypted messaging on platforms like WhatsApp gives consumers assurance that governments aren't eavesdropping on them.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Despite the numerous privacy scandals Facebook has faced of late, CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls the company an "innovator in privacy."

In a discussion with Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain, Zuckerberg said that Facebook has been a developer of cutting-edge private communication tools since the service's early days at Harvard, and that the company continues to focus on improving them.

"Thinking about Facebook as an innovator in privacy is certainly not the mainstream view," Zuckerberg said during the taped conversation, which was released publicly on Wednesday. "But going back to the very first thing that we did, making it so Harvard students could communicate in a way that they had some confidence that their content and information would be shared with only people within that community, there was no way that people had to communicate stuff at that scale but not have it either be just completely public or just as small as it had been before."

Zuckerberg's conversation with Zittrain was the first of his series of discussions about tech and society, following his New Year's resolution to help fix the industry.

Zuckerberg said that private communications using social networking platforms and ephemeral content like Stories are only getting more popular. Users send about 100 billion private messages per day across Facebook's platforms, which include WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, he said.

"When we talk about privacy, I think a lot of the questions are often about privacy policies and legal or policy type things," Zuckerberg said. "But I actually think there is another element of this that's really fundamental, which is that people want tools that give them new contexts to communicate and that's also fundamentally about giving people power through privacy, not just not violating privacy."

We will likely see more privacy regulation, says expert

Zuckerberg said encrypted messaging on WhatsApp helps assure users all over the world that governments are not eavesdropping on their conversations, something he said U.S. citizens tend to take for granted. Facebook confirmed last month that it's planning to integrate its three messaging platforms and offer end-to-end encryption across all of them.

But users have reason for skepticism. Facebook has been plagued with scandals related to how user data is shared. The most notable event was the revelation last year that research firm Cambridge Analytica exploited Facebook's platform to gain access to information from more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission.

Still, Zuckerberg is confident that consumers crave the chat services Facebook offers.

"All of the success that Facebook has had, this is kind of a counterintuitive thing, has been because we've given people new private or semi-private ways to communicate things that they wouldn't have had before," he said.

Watch: After UK's 'digital gangster' report on Facebook, is the stock too risky to touch?

After UK's 'digital gangster' report on Facebook, is the stock too risky to touch?