Where is privacy heading and who is driving it?


Here is a video of a very interesting interview of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by Mike Arrington of Techcrunch.

There are a number of very interesting comments by Zuckerberg in the interview, including on how Facebook Connect is so fundamental to the company. He said that “obviously much more is going to be developed outside of Facebook than inside,” meaning that the development of Facebook into a platform is critical.

More controversial was Zuckerberg’s comments on privacy. At around 3:15 in the video he says:

“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.”

This prompted Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb to write a long diatribe, saying:

I don’t buy Zuckerberg’s argument that Facebook is now only reflecting the changes that society is undergoing. I think Facebook itself is a major agent of social change and by acting otherwise Zuckerberg is being arrogant and condescending.

This is a fascinating issue. I and many others – including Zuckerberg – have been surprised through this decade by quite how much people have been prepared to share, given the opportunity by the rapid rise of Web 2.0 tools. Undoubtedly there has been a rapid evolution of social attitudes to privacy, as many people have discovered that they are in fact comfortable sharing some personal information.

Facebook, as the largest participant in enabling people to share personal information, absolutely plays a role in shaping people’s attitudes to privacy. From a systems perspective, it does not control the system, but is an active player that can influence the evolution of social attitudes.

Facebook’s commercial interests are aided by its users being more open, however if it goes beyond where many people are comfortable on privacy it risks losing users or impeding growth. So it needs to tread a fine line.

I often say that even with the evidence of the last decade on how attitudes to privacy have changed in a connected world, it is still very difficult to predict quite how privacy will evolve from here. It has to be understood as a system, with very diverse – and often rapidly changing – views and behaviors from individuals, and significant impact from corporate, political, and government influences. As we observe the evolution of privacy, some key lessons will be drawn from the response to Facebook’s current moves to make profiles more public.