Mark Zuckerberg Sympathizes With Apple in Its Fight With the FBI Over Security

Facebook chief also talks VR and live video during keynote

Headshot of Marty Swant

BARCELONA, Spain—When it comes to which side of the encryption fence Facebook stands on in the battle between Apple and the FBI, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he is "sympathetic" with the maker of the iPhone and its staunch refusal to make a "back door" to a secure mobile device.

The Facebook founder, speaking at Mobile World Congress during a keynote interview with Wired senior writer Jessi Hempel, said he didn't think a back door to encryption is the best way for the U.S. Department of Justice to gain access to data on the phone of suspected terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook. However, he said Facebook also understands the need to keep people safe, both online and in real life. (Facebook reportedly has had its own interaction with the feds when it comes to tracking terrorists using data available through the social network.)

"If we have opportunities to basically work with government folks to make sure there aren't terrorist attacks, then we're obviously going to take those opportunities," Zuckerberg said. "And we feel a pretty strong responsibility to help make sure that society is safe, so we care about that. That's a big deal."

Zuckerberg spoke to a packed room in the final time slot of the first day of the mobile technology industry's biggest event. Here are a few of the other topics he touched on:

A vision of virtual reality

Zuckerberg recounted a story about when he first learned to program computers: The then 11-year-old would sit in math class and scribble code in his notebook while drawing pictures of how the Internet might someday work beyond two-dimensional websites. Now, the technology is finally here, he said.

"There are two real things that we are focused on with VR," he said. "One is this trend of giving people better and better ways to express everything that they care about and consume things that they care about in the world. Ten or 15 years ago, most of what we shared and consumed online was text, and then it was photos, especially when we got smartphones, … and now it's becoming video."

Just yesterday, while making a surprise appearance at Samsung's unveiling of its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones in Barcelona, Zuckerberg said people have spent more than 1 million hours in virtual reality using Samsung's Gear VR device. Facebook has its own social VR department to explore social components of virtual reality. He said people are always looking for more immersive ways to share their lives.

"When I took my first steps, my mom wrote down the date with a pen," Zuckerberg said. "Text, right? My cousin, when her son took his first steps, she took a photo of it with a camera. My sister, when her son took his first steps, she took a video on a mobile camera. And what I hope to do is capture the whole scene, so I can remember it, and with a 360 camera, so even if my parents or my family aren't there, they will be able to just feel like they are."

The growth of live video

Facebook has been increasingly touting the role mobile video plays on the platform. Zuckerberg said he sees live video—a feature recently opened up to users other than celebrities and journalists—as a way for people to share more of their lives than what appears in their personally curated feeds. 

Platforms like Messenger, WhatsApp and Live Video are "really powerful," he said, because they give people a more intimate experience. "And it gives people a reason to just be [themselves]," Zuckerberg added.

Internet for all

Asked about India's recent decision to ban Free Basics, Facebook's initiative to provide Internet access to parts of the country that don't have it, Zuckerberg acknowledged the setback. However, he said, "Facebook isn't a company that hits a roadblock and just gives up." Instead, it's moving forward with other plans, such as launching a satellite and building a drone. The company founder said he is disappointed that some fail to take the initiative at face value or anything more than a moneymaker.

"Our goal, to the extent of any business goal at all, is to help people get on the Internet," he said.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.