PARIS — Mark Zuckerberg is known for taking on a new personal challenge every year — whether its learning Mandarin, eating only the meat of animals he has slaughtered or keeping himself to a regular running schedule.
This year? Its saving Facebook.
Asked about his challenge for 2018, the Facebook chief executive told an audience at the VivaTech conference in Paris on Thursday: “This year I just felt like there were so many important issues … we needed to make sure I was putting 100 percent of my effort on [addressing the issues]. My real challenge is to do all the work that we need to do at Facebook.”
The hiatus from Zuckerbergs annual self-improvement regimen underscores the scale of the crisis facing his company.
Never before has Facebook been accused of being a favored platform for election manipulation.
The burden of policing a platform with 2.2 billion users is weighing on Facebook.
Never before has the 34-year-old faced public questioning about his firms data collection practices before lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
And never before has he had to answer queries on why his companys business model, which relies on collecting personal data and selling targeted advertising, is still viable in an age of rising privacy concerns.
“I do think the reality here is that ads are the right business model if youre trying to connect everyone in the world and you want to be free,” Zuckerberg said in response to a question about Facebooks business model, which has come under fire from rival tech mogul Elon Musk.
But that open approach, and the burden of policing a platform with 2.2 billion users, is weighing on Facebook.
So far Facebook has avoided financial and legal penalties over its data collection practices.
In addition to investing heavily in artificial intelligence tools that monitor and flag “bad content” — anything from terrorist propaganda to revenge pornography — the firm has hired thousands of people to track hate speech, zap away fake profiles and ensure that Facebook is complying with Europes new data protection standards, which come online Friday.
The result is a company galloping to keep pace with its own size and newfound responsibilities, with big financial outlays attached.
So far Facebook has avoided financial and legal penalties over its data collection practices — by apologizing for mistakes, rolling out new privacy settings and pouring money into developing artificial intelligence tools to police its masses of content.
But fresh dangers are lurking.
In Europe, privacy advocates stand ready to hit Facebook with lawsuits over data protection as soon as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) becomes effective. EU leaders are forcing online platforms, Facebook first among them, to take legal responsibility over content posted to their sites. EU lawmakers are also calling for Facebook and a few other digital giants to be broken up over concerns they have become too dominant.
And in California, the firm faces a legal challenge from an app developer that accused Facebook of “weaponizing data.”
Zuckerberg put an upbeat spin on the new rules during his trip to Paris, which included a sit-down with French President Emmanuel Macron | Christophe Petit Tesson/AFP via Getty Images
Zuckerbergs company stands ready to confront the challenges in court and stay ahead of regulators demands. He put an upbeat spin on the new rules during his trip to Paris, which included a sit-down Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“One of the things that good regulation can do, is that it can increase public trust,” Zuckerberg said, reiterating that Facebook would roll out GDPR-compliant standards for its users “around the world.”
Yet the political mood toward Facebook — which one EU lawmaker this week compared to “Frankenstein” — is getting darker.
In 2018, Zuckerberg needs to reverse that trend, and make sure that his company avoids any legal decisions that could deliver a financial body blow, and imperil its business model.
Quite a personal challenge.