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Facebook has made mistakes, but is trying to regain public trust: India chief Ajit Mohan

At Carnegie India’s Global Technology Summit, Facebook India MD Ajit Mohan says the social media giant is different from what it used to be two years ago.

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New Delhi: Facebook India managing director Ajit Mohan has said the social media giant has made mistakes in the past, but is making genuine efforts to earn public trust.

Mohan was speaking to ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta at Carnegie India’s Global Technology Summit in Bengaluru Thursday.

Mohan said over 2.8 billion people use Facebook’s family of apps, so it is bound to be liable for public scrutiny. But he added that because of the company’s efforts over the past couple of years, “Facebook is now very different from what it used to be”.

He also said that despite the relatively lower revenues from India, Facebook is making long-term investments in the country. “It is our privilege to participate in the transformation of India, unlike we can do in China (where it is banned),” remarked Mohan.

Also read: ‘Data nationalism’ needed to combat misuse by tech firms, hostile countries: Mohandas Pai

Restoring public trust

A large part of the discussion was centred on how, over the past few years, Facebook has come under attacks by various governments and the public. Scandals such as Cambridge Analytica or the lack of data privacy have tarred Facebook’s public image. But Mohan answered questions quite candidly.

“I think it is fair that there should be scrutiny into a company that is so deeply embedded in the social fabric of society. And Facebook has made mistakes in the past,” said Mohan.

“The internet also functioned for 15-20 years without a lot of regulation… And we have realised that’s not how it can be. I think the regulations that are coming in will benefit future stages of growth.”

When Gupta asked Mohan why Facebook is disliked so much by Left-liberals, he responded by outlining how the company has tried to rebuild public trust.

“The sincerity to change is real in Facebook. It is not the same company it was two years ago,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s anything more than maintaining and restoring the trust of users. And we have an economic incentive to get the trust aspect right,” he added.

Also read: Data protection is part of national security, it’s the new influence, says Jaishankar

Encryption and the WhatsApp hack  

Gupta asked Mohan about Facebook’s stand on encrypted conversation platforms such as WhatsApp, which it owns. “A lot of the new controversies in India and elsewhere are about encrypted communication systems that you run. Has it been a liability?” Gupta asked.

Mohan said he didn’t think it was a liability. “One of the things we have said is that we are doubling up on privacy and have end-to-end encryption. The communication between users should be free and private,” he said.

“We have made massive investments in developing a process that safeguards user privacy and what data is released to third-parties. Every new product before its launch moves through that process.”

However, Mohan did mention some trade-offs Facebook has to grapple with. “There is a recognition in Facebook about the trade-offs between user privacy and national security concerns, and we are engaging with them,” he said.

When Gupta inquired if the recent Pegasus spyware hack into WhatsApp had been dealt with, Mohan informed the audience that everything that required fixing at the Facebook end had already been done.

“The attack happened because of vulnerabilities in the operating system, and now it is upon them to fix those,” said Mohan, though he added that such attacks are going to recur in the future.

“This is an on-going game. There will be actors who will try and breach secure fortifications. Facebook’s goal is to keep raising the bar and be on alert,” he said.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also read: Small businessmen will soon get loans based on data, not balance sheets: Nandan Nilekani


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