Friday, December 7

Saving Face, Sort Of: Mark Zuckerberg

Everybody likes talking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. And what’s not to like?

As a Harvard student in 2004, Zuckerberg founded the online social networking Website Facebook. As a young entrepreneur in 2006, he passed on a $1 billion offer from Terry Semel, then CEO of Yahoo! A year later, Microsoft infused $240 million into the social network, putting the 23-year-old on the fast track.

Never mind all that other stuff. Never mind the old ConnectU controversy; it was tossed out, um, for now. Never mind the lawsuit against the Harvard alumni publication for invasion of privacy over an article (irony). Never mind he basically lied to Louise Story of The New York Times about opting in to Beacon, which gathers up information about you on Facebook and away from Facebook.

Never mind. Never mind, because Mark Zuckerberg is sorry.

He’s sorry because “the problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.”

In other words, he’s sorry that you, and me, and probably Louise Story are too stupid to opt-out on his terms and that’s much more important than what he told The New York Times anyway. After all, Facebook, by slurping up our online lives, is only trying to make it easier for us to share with our friends, Facebook, and anyone who might happen to ask. If only we would all see it his way.

Most people do see it his way. Even Brian Solis, who I read regularly, seemed to take one look at Zuckerberg, smile and write “His words, most notably, his apology, humanize the company.”

Sure, Solis also noted the apology was less than perfect, but this sentiment represents how badly people want Facebook to be what it could be and not necessarily what it is.

Solis is not the only one. According to Forbes, everyone from MoveOn, which called the change "a big step in the right direction," to Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who said "Facebook is learning that privacy matters. It's signaling that it does care about how it's viewed and how important trust is to online businesses," has accepted.

But, what did Zuckerberg really do? If he were a pickpocket, the Beacon fiasco might be likened to stealing a Jackson from your wallet and giving you back a Lincoln with a song, dance, and smile. Zuckerberg is one of the few who can get away with it.

Why? Because many people feel that they need Facebook more than Facebook needs them. And as long as this “feeling” remains, and some people treat Facebook as if it is the air we breathe, then we can expect more creepy than cool for a long time to come.

Far, far fewer people have put any real thought into what is actually occurring beyond the apology. Wendy Grossman is one of them. Brian Oberkirch is another. Jack Flack is yet another.

But in the great game of public relations, where perception and reality don’t always intersect, a few voices can often be outweighed by the many. And that means sincerity matters less than presenting yourself as people expect you to.

So when it comes to Zuckerberg, it seems to me that the world expects everything, except for Facebook being a responsible corporate citizen. Thus, as long as the traffic continues to surge for Facebook, “sort of” sorry will be good enough. Hmmm … no wonder Zuckerberg usually sports a boyish smile.



Rich on 12/7/07, 3:08 PM said...

More words:

"So now, if you’re a member, you can go to your privacy controls page and opt out entirely (well, not entirely—your info still gets sent to Facebook, but doesn’t show up publicly)." — BusinessWeek

Rich on 12/7/07, 11:45 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

“As more users flock to it, the chances that the person who precipitates your exodus will find you increases. Once that happens, poof, away you go — and Facebook joins SixDegrees, Friendster and their pals on the scrapheap of net.history.” — Cory Doctorow

Sharon E. Herbert on 12/11/07, 11:19 AM said...

Thanks for this, Rich. I wasn't convinced by Zuckerberg's apology either and was even more annoyed by the statement that they were "releasing a privacy control" for users to opt out of the Beacon app. That alone seems to underscore that Zuckerberg and his cohorts just don't get it: Facebook apps should automatically be set to opt out, requiring users to opt *in*.

I am also increasingly disturbed by what I'm observing with 3rd party apps on Facebook. For example, I set up my Facebook account to *not* show when I was online. Imagine my surprise the other day when visiting a friend's profile and discovered they'd installed a 3rd party app that showed recent visitors - and there I was.

To quote Zuckerberg: "Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information". I don't think this was ever the case. They have blatantly abused the trust of users and sadly, most don't seem to notice or care.

ghosts in the machine

Rich on 12/12/07, 5:03 PM said...

Thanks for the comment Sharon.

So third party applications can undermine their pledge for privacy. I had no idea.

I do agree with you that online privacy seems to be on the lowest end of the spectrum in terms of concern. While I have always wondered about it, it seems to me that most people are willing to give up privacy for some semblance of a privilege, no matter how thin that privilege may be.



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