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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the last year, Facebook has quietly built up a small "responsible innovation" team with a huge mission: Look at upcoming products and help prevent them from being misused to cause harm.

Why it matters: Facebook has spent much of the last few years dealing with the shortcomings of its existing products, especially with regard to misinformation, data privacy and abuse.

Details: The team is led by Zvika Krieger, who was was exploring similar issues as head of a World Economic Forum center in San Francisco before joining Facebook last year.

  • Facebook hasn't talked much publicly about Krieger's team or its work since we scooped his hire last year, but he shared some details Tuesday night in a World Economic Forum panel I moderated.
  • Krieger said the team, which works directly with those developing new products, brings together people with backgrounds in anthropology, sociology, neuroscience, human rights, diversity and inclusion, civil rights and law.
  • Though Facebook has made past efforts around responsible innovation, Krieger's unit gives Facebook as a central team that acts as a resource across the company.

How it works: Krieger said his main goal is to engage product teams early, when he can still ask whether the product should be built at all and if it should, how to identify and mitigate unintended misuses.

  • "If you are just a box-checking exercise or if a product is about to launch in a week and (someone) says, hey, can you do an ethics check on this, that’s not a real engagement," Krieger said.
  • At the same time, he is trying to send the message to the rest of Facebook that his team isn't just a roadblock. "Considering potential harms doesn't have to slow teams down. In fact, it often saves them time down the road," he said. "The worst-case scenario is not realizing the potential harm until after launch — that is what we are trying to avoid as much as we can."

The big picture: Facebook's next generation of products is likely to be more pervasive and intrusive than today's News Feed and groups, including virtual worlds, augmented reality glasses with facial recognition and other powerful technologies.

  • Facebook has already said its Reality Labs unit will begin testing augmented reality glasses later this year in order to learn what people's expectations are around a product that might be able to record the world around it, among other potential areas of concern.

Yes, but: Building a healthy reflex for internal self-criticism can come hard inside a huge successful corporation. Look at Google, which created a team devoted to studying the ethics of artificial intelligence, then pushed out some of those same people in an explosive public controversy.

My thought bubble: It’s too bad there weren't enough people asking these questions when Facebook was building its original product — or at any time during its first decade, when so many of its recent problems germinated.

Go deeper

Super typhoon Surigae explodes to Cat. 5 intensity

Super Typhoon Surigae seen on satellite imagery Saturday morning east of the Philippines. (CIRA/RAMMB)

Super Typhoon Surigae surged in intensity from a Category 1 storm on Friday to a beastly Category 5 monster on Saturday, with maximum sustained winds estimated at 190 mph with higher gusts.

Why it matters: This storm — known as Typhoon Bising in the Philippines — is just the latest of many tropical cyclones to undergo a process known as rapid intensification, a feat that studies show is becoming more common due to climate change. It weakened slightly, to the equivalent of a strong Category 4 storm, on Sunday.

3 hours ago - World

Biden adviser warns "there will be consequences" for Russia if Navalny dies

The Biden administration warned the Russian government "that there will be consequences" if jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday.

The big picture: Sullivan also defended President Biden for not mentioning Navalny in a Thursday speech about Russia or in a Tuesday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the White House aims to deal with the issue "privately and through diplomatic channels."

3 killed, 2 wounded overnight in Kenosha bar shooting

Three people died and two were hospitalized with serious injuries after a gunman entered bar in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the police department said in a statement on Sunday. Police responded to the shooting at around 12:42 a.m. and the suspect has not been found.

The big picture: The midnight shooting is the latest in a string of deadly mass shootings to hit the U.S. since March, fueling a debate in Washington about how to regulate the weapons.

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