On one hand, it’s refreshing to see tech leaders such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg stepping forward to speak out about the despicable practices the US government in general and the NSA in particular are perpetrating against their own citizens. On the other hand, it’s strange to hear someone whose company has notoriously blurred the lines of privacy as part of their unstated goal calling out a bigger and badder entity.
Is this a misdirection? Is it a ploy to be viewed on the right side of the discussion? Has he really changed his perspective?
He once said that the “social norm” was to share more information. The implication that many picked up on is that he was telling Michael Arrington that the age of privacy was over. Now, at TechCrunch Disrupt, he seems to be heading in the other direction and saying that privacy is important.
Which is it?
“Frankly, I think that the government blew it,” he said. “They blew it on communicating the balance of what they were going for with this.”
Zuckerberg will be in Washington DC next week to discuss this and other issues with House republicans. The company’s participation in PRISM has been well documented, but now it seems that they want to be painted as unwilling participants fighting for the people. That’s to be expected. The general backlash against the revelations has been harsh, not just against the government but also towards the companies that participated without telling their users. Facebook falls squarely in this category.
With all of this, how is he so quickly being painted as a champion for the people?
Not everyone is buying it, but the response on Facebook itself and throughout the blogosphere has been to put him on a privacy-championing pedestal.
Mark Zuckerberg (and anyone at Facebook, for that matter) does not have the credentials to speak for the people when it comes to this issue. He is not the person that can champion the cause of stopping the government’s push towards a Big Brother state. The technology is there to watch us, collect data on us, and to collect just about every form of communication we utilize every day. Tech companies that have shown a disdain for privacy are not in any position to fight the battle for us.
Facebook is a tool that the government or any other entity can utilize to understand what we’re doing, what we’re saying, and who we’re saying it to regardless of whether or not Facebook cooperates or not. That’s not a knock on Facebook; it’s the users who are so willing to be public in their actions and communications. Being on Facebook is a choice and making information public is something that is in all of our hands. In essence, that’s what Facebook is designed to do – make our lives more public.
There’s nothing wrong with that. However, that does not give the founder of the company the right perspective to talk to anyone about transparency or privacy. Being part of the problem makes it much harder for him to ever be part of the solution.