Mark Zuckerberg Does Not Like Personal Privacy

Stephen Lam/Reuters via ZUMA

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

As Mark Zuckerberg wriggles his way past a Senate committee that’s pretty clearly overmatched in the IQ department, it’s important to remember why Facebook has such big privacy problems. It’s because Mark Zuckerberg wants it that way. Here he is in 2008 talking about his campaign to get people to stop caring about personal privacy:

The challenge we have is to bring people along that whole path. First, get people onto Facebook and make it so that people can be comfortable sharing information online. Four years ago, when Facebook was getting started, most people didn’t want to put up any information about themselves on the internet. We got people through this really big hurdle of wanting to put up their full name or real picture or mobile phone number.

And again in 2010, telling an interviewer that as Facebook’s campaign to change privacy norms progresses, they try to stay ahead of the curve by reducing privacy protections even further:

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.

Zuckerberg’s overriding vision from Day One has been unvarying: to get people to share everything about themselves on Facebook. If they do it voluntarily, that’s great. If they don’t do it voluntarily, then Facebook tricks them—and the standard Facebook trick is both simple and surprisingly effective: set privacy defaults as loosely as possible and wait to see if anyone notices. If they do, tighten them the minimal amount needed to quiet the outrage and then do an interview where Zuckerberg talks earnestly about how good their privacy controls are. Rinse and repeat. Facebook has used this approach over and over and over, and it seems to work great no matter how many times they do it.

Of course, one of the big ironies of today’s Senate hearing is that if Congress did decide to get serious about privacy—yes, yes, I know. Stop laughing. Just hear me out. If Congress did decide to get serious about privacy, it might do nothing but benefit Facebook at this point. After all, loose privacy controls aren’t only about targeting ads. They’re also about making it possible for other people to find you. This is what makes a social network grow in the first place. But Facebook already has 2 billion users. That’s nearly every internet user in the world outside China, so there’s a hard limit on their future growth rate.

In other words, stricter privacy controls wouldn’t hurt Facebook all that much at this point. They’d only hurt Facebook’s smaller competitors, who would find it harder to grow as quickly as Facebook did.

It’s still worth doing, though. A good start would be to work with Europe on adopting a common set of privacy standards that are based far more on those in the EU than those in the US. I can dream, can’t I?

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.