Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied recent reports that it plans to share smartphone location data with the US government to help health authorities track and understand the spread of coronavirus infections.
On a call with reporters Wednesday to talk about Facebook’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which includes a coronavirus information center with real-time health information set to launch globally within the next 24 hours, Zuckerberg refuted that Facebook is talking about handing location data over to the government.
Facebook does already have a disease prevention mapping tool that it launched last year, before COVID-19, which uses aggregated, anonymized and opted-in location data gathered from users to help health organizations identify how certain kinds of diseases are transmitted.
But Zuckerberg, who said he’s working from home, just like the rest of Facebook employees and contractors, noted that the company isn’t looking to do anything further on the location data front right now, and that governments also aren’t asking Facebook to do so.
“I don’t think it would make sense to share people’s data in a way where people didn’t opt into doing that,” Zuckerberg said (with no sense of irony).
The bulk of the requests Facebook has gotten from federal and regional governments have had to do with cracking down on coronavirus misinformation and disseminating authoritative information from trusted sources, which is what the soon-to-launch COVID-19 info center is all about.
The hub will automatically appear at the top of every Facebook news feed starting tomorrow in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the United States and United Kingdom with more countries to follow.
Scams, hoaxes and general nonsense about coronavirus have run rampant on social platforms, including Facebook, ever since the disease broke out. Zuckerberg called out one particularly egregious, and downright dangerous, rumor that had been circulating: That people who think they have the virus, should drink bleach to cure it.
Over the last few weeks, Facebook has been working with the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization to identify and remove content that includes harmful coronavirus-related claims.
But if Facebook can limit misinformation about COVID-19, it’s logical to wonder why Facebook still refuses to fact-check political advertising.
Zuckerberg insisted that COVID-19 misinformation and false claims in political ads have nothing to do with each other.
False coronavirus info falls under Facebook’s policy to block content that could lead to imminent harm, he said, which is “black and white” and “in a completely different class of content than the back-and-forth [claims] candidates make about one another during an election.”
“Even in the most free-expression friendly traditions, like the United States, you’ve long had the precedent that you don’t allow people to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded room,” Zuckerberg said. “[That] is similar to spreading dangerous misinformation at the time of an outbreak like this.”