Facebook Whistleblower Faults Zuckerberg for 'Failure of Leadership,' Profits Over Safety

Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower accusing the company of profiting from misinformation, said in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday that the company's rebrand as Meta is the result of Mark Zuckerberg putting profits before people.

"They're going to hire 10,000 engineers to work on video games when they haven't actually gotten safety right on their main product," she said, "so given that I see this pattern of choices where he prioritizes growth and expansion over making sure what he has is good, I think that is a failure of leadership."

Facebook recently announced that the metaverse would be the new main focus of the company. Zuckerberg has described it as a "virtual environment" that is 3D-rendered and fully interactive. Newsweek previously reported that the world can be accessed through virtual reality goggles that will have the ability to "detect physical movements and sounds as well as play back audio," once fully functional.

However, Haugen said the metaverse concept will force users to relinquish even more personal data.

"If your employer decides they're now a metaverse company, you have to give out way more personal data to a company that's demonstrated that it lies whenever it is in its best interests," she said.

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently called the concept "a cancer to democracy metastasizing into a global surveillance and propaganda machine," while ProtonMail CEO Andy Yen told Newsweek that Meta is "building a new infrastructure where they control everything."

"They've demonstrated with regard to Facebook that they can hide behind a wall," Haugen said. "They keep making unforced errors, they keep making things that prioritize their own profits over our safety."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

AP Interview
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Brussels on November 9, 2021. "If your employer decides they're now a metaverse company, you have to give out way more personal data to a company that's demonstrated that it lies whenever it is in its best interests," she said. AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Haugen warned Tuesday that the metaverse will be addictive and rob people of yet more personal information while giving the embattled company another monopoly online.

Haugen said her former employer rushed to trumpet the metaverse because of the intense pressure it is facing after she revealed deep-seated problems at the company and energized legislative and regulatory efforts around the world to crack down on big tech companies.

"If you don't like the conversation, you try to change the conversation," the former product-manager-turned whistleblower said.

Meta, the new name for the parent company of Facebook, denied it was trying to divert from the troubles it faces by pushing the metaverse. "This is not true. We have been working on this for a long time internally," the company said in a statement.

Launching that new brand, in fact, draws attention to the company, it said in a statement, adding that if it didn't want the scrutiny it would have delayed or scrapped the launch altogether.

But the new focus on metaverse creates a whole new set of dangers, Haugen said. In "Snow Crash," the 1992 the sci-fi novel that coined the phrase, "it was a thing that people used to numb themselves when their lives were horrible," she said.

"So beyond the fact that these immersive environments are extremely addictive and they encourage people to unplug from the reality we actually live," she said, "I'm also worried about it on the level of—the metaverse will require us to put many, many more sensors in our homes and our workplaces," forcing users to relinquish more of their data and their privacy.

Haugen has said Facebook's systems amplify online hate and extremism, fail to protect young people from harmful content and that the company lacks any incentive to fix the problems, in revelations that shed light on an internal crisis at the company that provides free services to 3 billion people.

To back up her allegations, she made a series of disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission that were also provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal team. The redacted versions received by Congress were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

In Tuesday's interview, she expressed astonishment that the company would shift focus to a whole new realm while it is under such intense criticism about the areas where it is already working.

The company denied that it's putting profits over safety. "Yes, we're a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people's safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie," it said, adding that it plans to spend more than $5 billion in 2021 on safety and security and employs more than 40,000 people work on keeping users safe.

Zuckerberg has previously dismissed Haugen's claims as a "coordinated effort" to paint a false picture of the company.

But officials in Washington and European capitals are taking her claims seriously. European Union lawmakers questioned her intensely Monday, before applauding her at the end of the 2 1/2-hour hearing.

The EU is drafting new digital rules for the 27-nation bloc that call for reining in big "digital gatekeepers," requiring them to be more transparent about algorithms that determine what people see on their feeds and making them more accountable for the content on their platforms.

Facebook has said it largely supports regulations, with legislative efforts in the EU and United Kingdom much further along than those in the U.S.

Haugen has made stops in London and Berlin to speak to officials and lawmakers and spoke at a tech conference in Lisbon. She also will address French lawmakers in Paris on Wednesday.

Meta
Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower accusing the company of profiting from misinformation, said in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday that the company's rebrand as Meta is the result of CEO Mark Zuckerberg putting profits before people. In this illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on October 28, 2021, a person watches on a smartphone Zuckerberg unveil the Meta logo. Photo by Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images