Facebook backs election integrity, AI initiatives in Germany

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, at the Digital-Life-Design confernce in Munich, southern Germany, on Jan 20, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

MUNICH (REUTERS) - Facebook has launched German initiatives to defend election integrity and examine the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI), its operations chief said on Sunday (Jan 20), seeking to convince sceptics it is serious about privacy and democracy.

The world's largest social network had a tough 2018 as it was buffeted by revelations thatBritish consultancy Cambridge Analytica had improperly acquired data on millions of its US users to target election advertising.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg has been grilled by lawmakers on the data lapses and, according to newspaper reports, US regulators are discussing fining Facebook for violating a binding agreement to protect the privacy of its users.

"We are not the same company that we were in 2016 or even a year ago," Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told the DLD Munich technology conference.

"We have a fundamentally different approach to how we run our company today."

In Germany, Facebook is relatively less popular among users than in other Western countries, partly due to privacy concerns dating back to its history of Nazi and Communist rule in the 20th century.

Sandberg said Facebook had struck a new partnership with Germany's federal cyber-security office to help to uphold the integrity of elections and would also commit US$7.5 million (S$10.2 million) towards research into the ethics of (AI) at the Technical University in Munich.

Facebook uses AI to spot and remove terrorist content and hate speech before it is reported to its 30,000 moderators, said Sandberg, adding it is also important to ensure that the technology is managed to prevent bias.

"We have to get this right; this is too important," she said.

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