This whole brouhaha over Facebook privacy appears to be stuck revolving around Mark Zuckerberg.
We seem to be stuck in a personal tug-of-war with the CEO of Facebook frustrated that a 26 year-old personally has so much power over so many.
Meanwhile, Mark Z. is personally reassuring us that we can trust Facebook which on some level implies we must trust him.
But should any single individual really be entrusted with so much? Especially “a 26 year-old nervous, sweaty guy who dodges the questions.” Harsh, but not a completely invalid point.
As users of Facebook, we all know that it is the content of all our lives and our relationships to each other that make Facebook special. As a result, we feel a sense of entitlement about Facebook policy-making that we don’t feel about services that are in many ways way more intrusive and/or less disciplined about protecting privacy (e.g. ISPs, cellphone providers, search).
Another way of putting it is, Facebook is not Apple! and as a result, needs a CEO who is a community leader, not a dictator of cool.
So we start asking questions like, why should Facebook make the big bucks at the expense of my privacy? Shouldn’t I get a piece of that?
(Google’s been doing this for over a decade now, but the privacy exposure over at Google is invisible to the end-user.)
At some point, will we decide we would rather pay for a service than feel like we’re being manipulated by companies who know more about us than we do and can decide whether to use that information to help us or hurt us depending on profit margin. Here’s another example.
Or are there other ways to counterbalance the corporate monopoly on personal information? We think so.
In order for us to trust Facebook, Facebook needs to stop feeling like a benevolent dictatorship, albeit one open to feedback, but also one with a dictator who looks like he’s in need of a regent.
Instead Facebook the company should consider adopting some significant community-driven governance reforms that will at least give it the patina of a democracy.
(Even if at the end of the day, it is beholden to its owners and investors.
For some context, this was the sum total of what Mark Z. had to say about how important decisions are made at Facebook:
We’re a company where there’s a lot of open dialogue. We have crazy dialogue and arguments. Every Friday, I have an open Q&A where people can come and ask me whatever questions they want. We try to do what we think is right, but we also listen to feedback and use it to improve. And we look at data about how people are using the site. In response to the most recent changes we made, we innovated, we did what we thought was right about the defaults, and then we listened to the feedback and then we holed up for two weeks to crank out a new privacy system.
Nothing outrageous. About par for your average web service. (But then again, Facebook isn’t your average web service.)
However, this is what should have been the meat of the discussion about how Facebook is going to address privacy concerns: community agency and decision-making, not Mark Z.’s personal vision of an interwebs brimming with serendipitous happenings.
Facebook the organization needs to be trusted. So it might be best if Mark Z. backed out of the limelight and stopped being the lone face of Facebook.
How might have that D8 interview have turned out if he had come on stage with a small group of Facebook users?
What governance changes would make you feel more empowered as a Facebook user?