No, Mark Zuckerberg Will Not Change Facebook’s Privacy Defaults

Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

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

So far, Mark Zuckerberg has skated through his congressional testimony without so much as a bruised pinkie. Yesterday produced a grand total of one good round of questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham about whether Facebook is a monopoly, and today has also (so far) produced one good round of questions. It came from Rep. Frank Pallone:

PALLONE: Yes or no? Will you commit to changing all the user default settings to minimize to the greatest extent possible the collection and use of users’ data? Can you make that commitment?

ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, we try to collect and give people the ability—

PALLONE: I’d like you to answer yes or no if you could? Will you make the commitment to changing all the user default settings to minimize to the greatest extent possible the collection and use of user’s data? I don’t think that’s hard for you to say yes to unless I’m missing something.

ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, this is a complex issue that I think deserves more than a one-word answer.

I’ll concede that the old “yes or no” gambit is kind of tiresome, but sometimes it can produce clarity. Facebook’s data collection has always rested on two pillars: its default privacy settings combined with the difficulty of changing them. Neither one by itself is really enough. You need both.

So Pallone wants to know if Facebook will change its defaults. Note that Pallone is not asking Facebook to stop collecting personal data. Not at all. He’s merely asking them to change the defaults so that people have to actively change them if they want to participate fully in the Facebook community. The nice thing about this is that it also provides Facebook with a great incentive to make its privacy settings easy to use. If they were put in a position where users had to understand the settings and know where to find them before Facebook could collect any personal data—well, I think you’d be amazed at just how quickly they could design a really nice, simple user interface for privacy settings.

But of course Zuckerberg gave the usual response to a yes-or-now question: it’s a complex issue that requires more than a one-word answer. But it’s really not. Just turn off data collection by default. Then explain to users the benefits they get if they turn them on. Done.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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.