Facebook ‘Knew What It Was Doing,’ Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt Says
Facebook’s conduct revealed in leaked documents is “pretty concerning,” said former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, who called for companies in the tech industry to show more restraint.
Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms Inc., “went a little too far on the revenue side and not enough on the judgment side,” Schmidt said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “You can see that from the Facebook leaks that have been occurring.”
The documents—shared with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress by whistle-blower Frances Haugen and obtained by TIME, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other media outlets—show that Meta struggled to contain hate speech and misinformation.
They also revealed that the company’s own staff, including internal researchers, faulted it for failing to stop the proliferation of groups that fomented the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6. Internal studies highlighted potential dangers associated with the company’s Instagram photo-sharing app, which is for teenage girls. Meta was rebranded last month by the company valued at $934 million.
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“The disturbing thing is that people have said a long time ago that Facebook was doing this, but people said, ‘Well, they didn’t understand or they didn’t measure it,’” Schmidt said. “And what we learned in those disclosures is that these companies—and Facebook in particular—knew what it was doing.”
Schmidt denied that regulation of the tech sector is his preference. “The regulation is always either too soon or too late,” said the executive, who was CEO and chairman of Google from 2001 to 2011 and executive chairman of the company until 2018. “What I would rather have is sort of proper industrial restraint,” he said.
The company’s rebranding move to Meta speaks to a new emphasis on building a metaverse—a virtual-reality social space that would eventually take over from the web and app social services of today. Meta said it will also seek to renew its appeal to younger users, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying executives will “make serving young adults their North Star, rather than optimizing for the larger number of older people.”
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Haugen is a former employee who testified before the Senate Commerce Committee last month. She blasted the company’s inattention to the well-being and security of its customers over profit. Zuckerberg has denied the characterizations, saying they’re “just not true.”
Schmidt, 66, is the co-author of a new book called “The Age of AI”—along with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and computer scientist Dan Huttenlocher—that examines how artificial intelligence is transforming human society for better and for worse.
Schmidt remains a technical adviser and top investor at Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., and he’s chairman of the Broad Institute research center. He was also responsible for the purchase of YouTube while at Google. This social media service has been criticized for its misinformation spreading.
—With assistance from Kurt Wagner and Mark Bergen.