I’m doing research for a paper on privacy on social network sites. (Yes, another one. But short this time.) Along the way, one of the things I’ve done is read closely the comments in which Mark Zuckerberg supposedly declared privacy dead. He made the remarks in a videotaped interview with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, which was widely reported at the time. Here are some representative samples:
- Marshall Kirkpatrick, at ReadWriteWeb, uses the headline “Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over.”
- Terrence O’Brien, at Switched, uses the headline, “Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Claims Privacy Is Dead.”
- Craig Kanalley, at the Huffington Post, writes, “If [Zuckerberg] could go back in time and build Facebook again, he would make profile data public by default.”
- Bobbie Johnson, in the Guardian, writes, “The rise of social networking online means that people no longer have an expectation of privacy, according to [Zuckerberg]. … [He] said that privacy was no longer a ‘social norm.’”
- Steven Holloman, at Associated Content, writes, “‘Make peace with it: no-one cares about privacy anymore!’ - With this line, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg justified security holes in this online social network.”
When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was ‘why would I want to put any information on the Internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?’
And then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.
We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.
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 never says that privacy is “over” or “dead.” While he says that if he were founding Facebook today, he would use the new privacy settings, he doesn’t talk about going back to 2004 and retroactively using the new settings. He says that social norms have changed, not that privacy isn’t a social norm at all. And he most decidedly never says anything about people not caring about privacy or about needing to “make peace” with this fact.
Facebook’s record on privacy is decidedly mixed. And Zuckerberg’s comments do conflate exogenous shifts in privacy norms with shifts catalyzed by Facebook itself. But beyond that, this man does not deserve the grief the Internets have been giving him over things he didn’t say. I sympathize with the Facebook representative trying to explain that, “His remarks were mischaracterised.” It’s a cliche of the PR trade, but in this case it happens to be true.
Kudos to Sebastian Anthony at Download Squad for calling BS on the reporting at the time.