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Former Facebook exec: 'Zuckerberg is sitting on more data about what people want to do online than anyone else in the world'

Key Points
  • Alex Stamos, who left Facebook in 2018, spoke on stage at Washington Post's technology and policy conference. 
  • He had an explanation of why his former boss, Mark Zuckerberg's, decisions can seem insane at the time, but make sense with the benefit of hindsight. 
Alex Stamos
Brendan Moran | Getty Images

Former Facebook executive Alex Stamos explained how Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is able to consistently make decisions that only make sense with the benefit of hindsight.

"Mark Zuckerberg is sitting on more data about what people want to do online than anyone else in the world," said Stamos, who was speaking at the Washington Post's technology and policy conference on Wednesday evening. 

He cited the acquisitions of private messaging WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion, and photo-sharing service Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion, as examples of bets "that people think are insane but turn out to be prophetic because he knows the direction the world is going," Stamos said.

Both deals have turned out to be highly valuable for the company. Instagram now boasts more than 1 billion active users per month and is popular among the younger audiences who are tuning out the core app. WhatsApp has more than 1.5 billion users and will probably form the basis of the company's new focus on private messaging, which Zuckerberg announced earlier this month.

Still, Stamos noted, all that data might not get Zuckerberg out of his current bind. Facebook and other tech companies in are managing a the thorny set of issues that involve balancing user privacy and user safety. It's often very challenging to do both, especially for a company of Facebook's scale, he said.

Stamos also talked about the importance of the tech industry working together to meet shared goals rather than taking potshots at each other.

"People at Morgan Stanley and Goldman (Sachs) hate each other but they understand their boats rise at the same time," said Stamos. "In the Valley, you have personality driven conflict...and if CEO's (in tech) snipe at others in keynotes...it's unlikely for them to work well."

Stamos added that if they don't stop their criticism of each other, they won't be able to work on the important issues like content moderation, regulation on political ads, and cybersecurity.

Stamos is the former chief security officer of Facebook and was among the first people at the company to discover Russians were using the social network to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election. He left the company in 2018.

WATCH: Zuckerberg's privacy push could cause more misinformation, says former security chief

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Zuckerberg's privacy push could cause more misinformation, says former Facebook security chief