Blown To Bits

Zuckerberg to the World: Privacy? Forget About It

Sunday, January 10th, 2010 by Harry Lewis

A year and a half ago, I wrote an opinion piece entitled How Facebook Spells the End of Privacy. Now Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says he’s sorry he ever built those privacy options into Facebook in the first place. Explaining the company’s decision in September to make all kinds of information public that users used to have the option to keep private—their friends list and the list of pages they subscribe to in particular — Zuckerberg explained,,

A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built, doing a privacy change – doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.

Zuckerberg says that people are more comfortable sharing and being open than they used to be, and Facebook is just catching up with where society has already gone. Of course this is nonsensical reasoning, unworthy of someone who took a course in computational theory from me (yes, he did). The claim that a lot more people today do X than not-X is no reason to make everyone do X. As Marshall Kirkpatrick observes in the story linked to above, money is a more likely explanation. Having made Facebook nearly ubiquitous, Zuckerberg now sees more money in encouraging (or requiring) people to give up more information about themselves.

There are reasons of personal safety for people to maintain some privacy. There are reasons people want to keep multiple identities (personal and professional, for example) isolated from each other. And there is the big argument, which I put forward in Chapter 2, that privacy is socially progressive—not in the political sense, just in the obvious way, it is easier to think differently, and act differently, if you do so with trusted friends than in the full view of the entire world. I wonder if Zuckerberg would say the same thing about people being more open about everything if he spent a few months in China or in Iran.

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