On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg published an updated founder’s letter for Facebook, his first since the company went public in 2012. Largely summarizing the CEO’s previous comments, the sweeping manifesto was newsworthy while containing little news. In at least one version of the text, however, Zuckerberg wrote about using artificial intelligence for online surveillance—a line stricken from the final draft.
As first discovered by Mashable and reportedly confirmed by Facebook, the letter originally suggested using AI to monitor terrorists’ private messages. The passage, which appeared in a version of the letter sent to news organizations before Thursday’s announcement, was published by the Associated Press before it, too, removed the statement:
The long term promise of AI is that in addition to identifying risks more quickly and accurately than would have already happened, it may also identify risks that nobody would have flagged at all — including terrorists planning attacks using private channels, people bullying someone too afraid to report it themselves, and other issues both local and global. It will take many years to develop these systems.
According to Mashable, a Facebook spokesperson said the line was ultimately “revised.” In the AP’s updated story, the following quote took its place:
Looking ahead, one of our greatest opportunities to keep people safe is building artificial intelligence to understand more quickly and accurately what is happening across our community
It’s unclear why Zuckerberg removed the statement, but the letter’s other comments on security offer some clues. In one section, it states that keeping Facebook safe “does not require compromising privacy.”
“As we discuss keeping our community safe, it is important to emphasize that part of keeping people safe is protecting individual security and liberty,” wrote Zuckerberg. “We are strong advocates of encryption and have built it into the largest messaging platforms in the world—WhatsApp and Messenger.”
Simultaneously advocating for encrypted communication and the surveillance of private messages presents an obvious contradiction. It’s possible that Zuckerberg’s commitment to the former ultimately outweighed his speculative interest in the latter.
As life becomes increasingly digitized, maintaining a proper balance between privacy and security will require difficult choices. Many of those decisions will be made by people like Mark Zuckerberg. Hopefully, the convictions of the Facebook founder and others like him will be more steadfast by then.