Zuckerberg: People Are Comfortable Without Privacy, So We Threw Them All Over The Cliff

from the well,-that's-one-way-to-look-at-it dept

Last May, I pointed out the massive difference between Twitter and Facebook was how Twitter was built with openness at its core. The very default was to share everything. Facebook came from the other extreme, with privacy at its core. The defaults had you sharing very little, and you had to be explicit about who you would share anything with. At the time, I noted this would make it difficult for Facebook to “become like Twitter,” because it wasn’t easy to shift its entire focus given the way it was set up and the legacy issues involved. That wasn’t a bad thing necessarily, because people can use Twitter and Facebook in very different ways, if they choose to. However, as you may recall, a few months back, Facebook tried to make that big shift anyway, pushing many people to reveal what had previously been private.

And now, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is trying to explain this away by suggesting that social norms online have changed so much that privacy is a thing of the past and open sharing is just more expected:

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.

He’s right, of course, that a lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and the legacies of what they had done, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that just shoving everyone over the cliff makes sense. The problem with those legacy issues is that even if people had become more comfortable sharing stuff and being open elsewhere, that wasn’t how many people used Facebook, and the idea of suddenly opening up what had been private can be pretty troubling.

Furthermore, as multiple people have pointed out, given Facebook’s dominance in the market, it’s a bit disingenuous for Zuckerberg to claim that ignoring privacy had become a social norm and Facebook was just keeping up with the times. For many, Facebook is the social norm, and it helps define how people act, rather than the other way around.

My guess is that Facebook was beginning to get Twitter-envy — despite Facebook being many times bigger than Twitter. After all, people have said that Zuckerberg is notoriously aware of “innovator’s dilemma” type situations, and greatly (and smartly) fears being undercut by the next hot thing. In reacting to that, Facebook believed that without a more open system, it couldn’t really compete where Twitter competes. I don’t think that’s true, though. There were many areas where Facebook could do things differently, without necessarily knocking down the old privacy barriers. In the end, I doubt this will harm Facebook as much as some people think (people will adapt), but it does seem odd for Zuckerberg and Facebook to be suggesting that social norms mandated this massive change rather than upstart competitive pressure.

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Companies: facebook, twitter

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Comments on “Zuckerberg: People Are Comfortable Without Privacy, So We Threw Them All Over The Cliff”

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ScaredOfTheMan says:

FB Core

I think Mark and crew are a bit delusional. Yes they have built one heck of a photo sharing and social connection platform, and they have plenty of users, but I already feel “Myspace syndrome” setting in.

When they start bullying their user base people will start looking for something else. I personally removed all real information (name, company I work for and most of my pictures) from the site after this last privacy innovation.

I would estimate 20% of my friends did something similar (changed their name, to remove photos). In the short term I am sure this will increase their page views (maybe prep for an IPO) but in the long term I think Facebook is going down the MySpace Road.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

I have had people who I consider to be the most modern and connected (and exactly in that target demographic of facebook, university students) come to me and refer to the changes made on Facebooks very unfavorably.

One of the them calls it “stalk book”, because there is really no simple way to hide yourself without hiding so much that nobody can find you.

What I am find in the last few months is that more and more people are NOT putting their lives out there on facebook, at least in my circle of friends, and now the site is defined mostly be game playing and witty but inane status updates. Fewer images, fewer real updates, etc.

People appear to be voting with their actions, and that seems to be a move away from discussing their lives on Facebook, because it no longer feels private.

aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m seeing the same thing. I never had any real information on Facebook (I had an account with a fake name that I used to view my friends pictures from time to time) but I have a lot of friends who have recently started moving away from using it since the privacy changes. Of my circle of friends, the only person still using it to any serious extent is always several years behind the “social” technological trends. In fact, she has just recently (in the last 6 months) jumped ship from MySpace to Facebook when she realized no one she talked to was there anymore.

Guillaume (profile) says:

For Facebook, we are all lemmings...

I made a search for a few of close friends, and for some their full facebook profile showed up after the change. All of them had simply clicked through the change without really reading, and were horrified to see that everything they had written was now public, probably forever (as it now lives in the Google cache).

This was an incredibly bad move from Facebook.

jsl4980 (profile) says:

Hopefully Facebook’s changes will make people think twice before posting pictures, details, status, thoughts, and whatever else they’re posting. I rarely use Facebook, and I looked at Twitter once. I don’t know why the makers of Facebook are envious of Twitter, but they know more about the market than I do, I’m only a consumer who doesn’t like either product.

Modplan (profile) says:

He Can't Bet Familiar

He can’t be familiar with Innovator’s Dilemma type situations, as he’s completely misjudged whether Facebook and Twitter even encroach on each others users (people using Twitter over Facebook, and Facebook over Twitter). A large part of the focus of the Innovators Dilemma and Innovators Solution was figuring out who you really compete against and why.

Twitter is a different use case than Facebook. Anything regarding social networking has some cross over, but there’s little reason to start chasing Twitter. Especially in ways that breaks their trust by forcing them to share. If they kept it secret, then assume they have good reason too, and that this is part of the reason they’re using your site. Social norms are dictated by people and their own choices, not ones you’ve dictated for them.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: He Can't Bet Familiar

I’m not sure that users were the main stake here, though. The changes came right when the tech media was buzzing about the “Twitter garden hose” of data and the various companies bidding to get access to its (potentially) valuable flow of real-time information. Real-time search was and is being heralded as the next big thing online, and Facebook was sitting on mounds of real-time data with no way to share it.

I strongly believe the privacy changes were mostly motivated by the desire to have a valuable stream of public data when they recognize that such streams could be a powerful commodity in the future.

Nat C (profile) says:

Social Networking

Well done Mike. I agree 100% with your post, and I think your final sentence is so true when you sayd “I doubt this will harm Facebook as much as some people think (people will adapt), but it does seem odd for Zuckerberg and Facebook to be suggesting that social norms mandated this massive change rather than upstart competitive pressure.”

MAC says:


I don’t use faceBook, twitter or any of the ‘other’ social networking sites.
A. I have no need for them.
B. My Privacy is absolutely essential to my piece of mind.

People who are willing to give up their Privacy deserve to have their skeletons shown to the world. And everyone has them, no exceptions to this rule. So why would someone do this? Don’t get enough attention? Mommy ignored you as a child. Don’t have a real life so you have to fabricate one online?
Why, Why would someone do something as stupid as this?
Also, why would you entrust godless capitalism with your secrets and privacy? Why? Don’t you fools realize that no matter what someone like Zuckerberg says that the one and only goal of any corporation is to make money?
Your privacy does not matter, money does. No matter what they say that is the bottom line.
I’t like they used to say in the old gangster movies,
“Nothin’ personal, it’s just business.” Right before they shoot you.

Fred Mulligan says:


Are you completely clueless to the concept of corporate politics? Do you take public statements by company officers at face value and entirely disregard the strategic importance of each word?

From your response to Zuckerberg’s comments, it would seem so.

You rant and ramble for paragraphs, basing every inference solely on the words Zuckerberg said, exactly as he said them, peering no deeper into the statement than the letters on the screen.

He said exactly what he had to say–that his customers and their needs and desires were the reason for the changes to Facebook’s privacy. The truth that he knows, that is obvious, but that apparently you are completely oblivious to, is that the changes were to bolster the service’s competitiveness for the future.

That’s all laid out right in front of you in his statement and your analysis; you just failed to recognize the incredibly simple game that needs to be played by a CEO who wants continued success for his company.

Did you honestly think he was going to outrightly say, “Well we really wanted to secure our competitiveness for the future, so we opened up the site to give it the kind of openness that will allow us to take market share from Twitter. Our users will get over it.”??

Modplan (profile) says:

Re: Really?

He said exactly what he had to say–that his customers and their needs and desires were the reason for the changes to Facebook’s privacy. The truth that he knows, that is obvious, but that apparently you are completely oblivious to, is that the changes were to bolster the service’s competitiveness for the future.

Except that this is exactly what Mike said, but it doesn’t make sense to do this. Making your product more competitive inherently involves listening to your customers – in this case, not breaking their trust by mandating what they can and can’t keep private, to try and compete with a product that doesn’t actallly compete in regards as to what people use it for.

MBraedley (profile) says:

Mark Zuckerberg must not understand his own platform

Facebook isn’t (and never was) about micro-blogging. Yes it has status updates, but few people update that nearly as often as they would tweet. Facebook is more about the people you interact with on a daily basis and people that you’d like to keep in touch with (or at least it’s supposed to), while twitter, at least for anyone with a public account, is meant for broadcasting yourself to the world, 140 characters at a time. Yes, there are overlaps in the uses of both services (for instance, I’ve seen one of my friends use Twitter as a pseudo IM client), but in the overlapping uses, there’s drastically different expectations of privacy and audience members.

As an addendum, I have a Facebook account, but not a Twitter account. The primary reason being that I have very few friends who use Twitter, but more importantly because I have no desire to have an open account that everyone can see but nobody reads.

Overcast (profile) says:

If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear?
Don’t ask, don’t tell?

Depends on who’s making the rules – and how they define ‘wrong’.

What’s so wrong with people’s right to privacy? If they aren’t doing anything wrong, then why is privacy an issue?

The statement “If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear?” is wrong in itself – it doesn’t adhere to the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – and history has clearly proven that concept to be vitally important to any free society.

Along with:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The people that came up with these concepts, came up with them for a reason; in a time when they clearly saw the worst parts of ‘humanity’.

If we ignore the lessons of history; we are doomed to repeat them.

No so long ago; in the 30’s – it was ‘wrong’ to belong to various racial and ethnic groups. Not just in Nazi Germany either – ask any black person who lived in the Southern Part of the U.S. during that time.

In those times there were some things considered ‘wrong’ by certain groups of people like:

Being a Jew.
Being a Christian.
Being a Gypsy.
Blacks sitting in the front of the bus.
Blacks going to white schools.
Blacks eating in White Restaurants.

In order to preserve our freedoms, we MUST insist upon all of them.

Give Tyrants an inch and they’ll take your whole country. And yes, they do still exist.

Overcast (profile) says:

Oh my my my, Mark – isn’t doesn’t seem you want to be as ‘transparent’ as you insist for your users, do you?

“It hasn’t been a great week for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

For starters, his company’s brand new advertising initiative is facing serious backlash from users and advertisers alike (chief among them Coca-Cola, which has put a moratorium on its dealings with Facebook). Then, 02138, the independent Harvard alumni magazine, published a story rather sympathetic to the plight of three former classmates of Zuckerberg who are suing him for stealing their idea and initial computer code. Finally, Monday, a federal judge turned down Zuck’s attempt to force 02138 to remove from its website a copy of his handwritten college application essay, as well as excerpts of an online journal he kept while at Harvard.”



:) says:

People who put private info on the net.

People who put their lives on the internet are insane to me.
Further if you use facebook and they don’t offer any encryption that you the user control is not really private.

Just as we ask people to not sue other that found private material in a public space we shouldn’t be surprised that an website that we don’t own don’t care about privacy because if they did they would let you encrypt your data and not even them would know what it was and you would choose what to share and what not to share.

Besides the damn things is defined as a social network where you presumably or at the very least shouldn’t care about what you put there.

Us much as I would like to point my finger at facebook I first look at ourselves and cannot in good conscience say they are wrong, it is a public forum there is no privacy there.

People can encrypt almost everything these days. E-mails, IM, browsers. So lets make good use of encryption and when someone break that then we all have a claim that it was a breach of privacy.

I’m all for privacy that is way I use TOR to navigate the web, don’t enable scripts, encrypt all my emails and chats and never subscribe to “social networks” with my real private information is just stupid to do so and even when there is a good reason like a job requeriment you only put the strictly necessary.

You can’t even trust friends because they may not share your sense of privacy and they will talk openly about you and what you do.

Social networks are a lot of fun and can be good for business but people shouldn’t expect privacy on them if they by themselves are the ones putting the information there.

Joel (profile) says:

I’ve never understood why Facebook doesn’t embrace the fact that not all people want their information public. And while some people do (and thrive with the publicity), Facebook could just as easily have a second set of privacy settings that greatly restricts how public a person’s information is.

For example, take the common story of the job applicant who loses his job because of an incriminating photo or series of wall posts on their profile. Imagine if Facebook had settings along the lines of (in addition to the settings they already have), “Keep my information from showing up on Google”, “only show selected pictures to close friends”, etc. With the right settings, Facebook could be a much more appealing experience.

(I suppose an argument could be made for Facebook’s success due to its nature as a “Stalk-Book” — whether or not people should care, people do care and look at people’s pictures and wall posts)

James Stevens (profile) says:

I don't get it

I love the new Facebook privacy changes. I finally have the control I’ve been dreaming of having with my content… I choose exactly what content I want specific people to see and the controls are very robust. Now I may be 22 years old and I may not care too much about people seeing my “google footprints” online, but the privacy controls are great. It’s about time Facebook gave us more control over who sees what.

Rooker (user link) says:

Facebook is spending all its time trying to be Twitter instead of Facebook.

The whole point of FB was you could be yourself to people you know and anyone else was locked out. Now they have arrogantly taken away controls because it was interfering with their bank account. Because of that, a lot of people are either quitting or have stopped making detailed updates. Facebook isn’t usable any more to a lot of people.

In 5 – 10 years, the kids posting the gory details of their underage binge drinking, sexual conquests, religious preferences and sexual orientation are going to be looking for college tuition and jobs. And then the people who decide who gets those jobs and tuition will fire up Google.

When that day comes, a hell of a lot of us are going to laugh and say “we told you so.”

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