Over the past couple weeks Facebook, and the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, have come under fire for aggressive changes that essentially force users to share more information. It’s a position which was backed by a logical and justifiable explanation, however the execution was not as transparent. If the company wants users to be more transparent, they should be equally transparent with their intentions.
Users Want To Share, Not Be Tracked
As Kim Mai Cutler eloquently articulates, Mark Zuckerberg has a completely logical explanation behind the company’s changes. This is illustrated through a discussion between David Kirkpatrick and Mark Zuckerberg in his upcoming book, “The Facebook Effect”:
Let me paint the two scenarios for you. They correspond to two companies in the Valley. It’s not completely this extreme, but they are on different sides of the spectrum. On the one hand you have Google, which primarily gets information by tracking stuff that’s going on. They call it crawling. They crawl the web and get information and bring it into their systems. They want to build maps, so they send around vans which literally go and take pictures of your home for their Street View system. And the way they collect and build profiles on people to do advertising is by tracking where you go on the Web, through cookies with DoubleClick and AdSense. That’s how they build a profile about what you’re interested in. Google is a great company, but you can see that taken to a logical extreme that’s a little scary.
On the other hand, we started the company saying there should be another way. If you allow people to share what they want and give them good tools to control what they’re sharing, you can get even more information shared. But think of all the things you share on Facebook that you wouldn’t want to share with everyone, right? You wouldn’t want these things to be crawled or indexed – like pictures from family vacations, your phone number, anything that happens on an intranet inside a company, or any kind of private message or e-mail. So a lot of stuff is getting more and more open, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s not open to everyone.
This is one of the most important problems for the next ten to twenty years. Given that the world is moving toward more sharing of information, making sure that it happens in a bottom-up way, with people inputting the information themselves and having control over how their information interacts with the system, as opposed to a centralized way, through it being tracked in some surveillance system. I think that’s critical for the world. That’s just a really important part of my personality, and what I care about.
There is no doubt that most people would agree with Mark’s position. We don’t want a company sneaking around and taking photos of everything in order to index the world’s information. Instead, it is definitely possible to index all the information that people share. While much sharing takes place within the public domain, it’s important to realize that some information that’s shared is meant to be private. Anything that’s contrary to this is the perspective of big brother.
Collect The Majority Of The World’s Information, Not All
This central position may very well be what has driven many people out the door. Internal politics aside, it’s pretty clear that users do not want to share all of their information. Providing control to users to enable them to share information is what has made the company so successful, however seeing this as a tool to move people in the direction of becoming more open is the wrong perspective. As Mark Zuckerberg tells Kirkpatrick in the book:
“To get people to this point where there’s more openness – that’s a big challenge. But I think we’ll do it. I just think it will take time.” He continues, “The concept that the world will be better if you share more is something that’s pretty foreign to a lot of people and it runs into all these privacy concerns.”
The way to get people to share more information is to give them the tools to do so. If people don’t want to share, they won’t and it’s up to them. Whether or not users want to share more, Facebook has the opportunity to give users complete control and to build their trust. Anything different would essentially violate a user’s trust in the company.