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.