Zuckerberg Says Facebook to Keep Building, Despite Challenges

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has a message for developers: you should keep building apps and tools for users, even as the social network tries to work through privacy probes and hate-speech hurdles.

“We all have challenges to address, but we need that optimism, too,’’ he said at the company’s F8 developer conference on Tuesday in San Jose, California. The hardest part of the year wasn’t the privacy crisis or any of the other various scandals, but deciding how to keep Facebook moving forward on building its business, Zuckerberg said.

A crisis that unfolded in recent weeks over Facebook’s sharing of personal user data with third parties led the company to shut down some of its tools for app makers. That caused some tension with developers who rely on the platform to connect with customers. At F8, Zuckerberg said he’s focused on making sure that Facebook’s app makers are first and foremost crafting tools that are good for the world, especially ones that help people make new connections.

“I know that the vast majority of you are focused on building good things,” Zuckerberg said. Among Facebook’s new tools, in the theme of bringing people together: A dating feature, for reaching non-friends and establishing relationships. It’s “for building real long-term relationships, not just hookups,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook’s plans to enter the world of online dating spooked investors in the market leader, Match Group Inc., which owns apps including Match.com, OKCupid and Tinder. Match shares fell as much as 21 percent, the most since February 2016. Match majority owner IAC/InteractiveCorp also tumbled, falling as much as 14 percent. Facebook shares climbed 0.4 percent.

At the event, Facebook also announced it’s offering some relief to app makers who were hamstrung by the recent privacy checkups. The company had stopped reviewing and approving new apps using Facebook’s developer tools while it figured out where to restrict its data sharing. On Tuesday, it will start that process back up again.

Seeking to address consumer concerns about privacy and data collection, Facebook also said it’s working on a "clear history" tool that will give users the option of scrubbing their accounts of data sent to the social network via outside websites and apps. The Menlo Park, California-based company said the feature, which will take several months to build, is a response to feedback showing that users want more control over their personal information.

The social network unveiled a new feature on its fast-growing Instagram photo-sharing app, which has been a bright spot amid the recent turmoil at Facebook. Users will now be able to post information from some other apps directly to their Instagram Stories, which are visible for 24 hours. For example, while listening to a song on Spotify, people will be able to share to their Instagram friends what title or album it is. Users will also be able to directly share action shots from their GoPro action-camera apps.

Facebook also said on Tuesday it will finally start selling its cordless virtual reality headset -- Oculus Go will be available in 23 countries on Tuesday. The Oculus Go, which will come pre-loaded with an application and game store, is designed to do what the iPhone did for smartphone apps a decade ago. Facebook says that more than 1,000 apps, games, and movies will be available to download on the headset. That includes apps from streaming-video services Netflix Inc. and Hulu LLC, not just games. Oculus executives said they expect the device will draw consumers who live with roommates and want to watch a different show than what’s playing on the TV, or people who want to take a portable entertainment device on planes.

Facebook has been wooing developers with the headset for months, after announcing it last year and then giving test units to some app makers. At F8, Facebook will unveil several new apps for the device, including Oculus Venues and Oculus TV. The Venues app allows users to virtually watch a live event, while the TV app -- like the one on the iPhone and iPad -- serves as a launchpad to various television offerings.

Another app, Oculus Rooms, will let four people virtually hang out in a customizable, living room-like space, and will allow them to play table games like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit within that environment.

Oculus is keeping its focus on virtual reality even as other major technology companies, including Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., place their bets on augmented reality as the potentially bigger market. Augmented reality combines virtual images with real-world ones, instead of encompassing users in a completely simulated environment. Facebook has in the past asked developers to build augmented-reality tools for other parts of its business, like the short ephemeral videos that compete with Snapchat Stories.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.