Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg Faces the Privacy Meter: Facebook trends open book

Face it folks, it's time to dust off the Privacy Meter for a quick check of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. According to an internal source, Mr. Zuckerberg has placed himself in the camp made (in)famous in 1999 by Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, who was reported to have said: “You already have zero privacy anyway, so get over it.”

Mr. Zuckerberg's position was recently described by a Facebook insider in response to this question: "How does Zuck feel about privacy?" Response: “He doesn’t believe in it.”

The details of this revelation can be read here and I'd have to say it hardly amounts to a public statement by "Zuck" himself (for the record, Scott McNealy's declaration was not a public statement either, and should be placed in context, something I tried to do in my 2002 book on privacy).

I doubt that either Mr. Zuckerberg or Mr. McNealy would say, on the record, that they don't believe in privacy. What both men seem to share is a frustration with privacy concerns as they relate to digital systems. Human beings can be annoyingly inconsistent and hard to predict when it comes to matters of personal information. That makes it inherently difficult to design online communications and online communities that satisfy every shade of sentiment with respect to the sharing of personal information. And that's why I created the Privacy Meter:

Not exactly a high tech device, it nevertheless serves its purpose: to help people assess their own attitude to their personal information. I developed the privacy meter as a teaching tool, specifically to teach Chief Privacy Officers and other C-level execs that:

a. Everyone has a different place on the privacy scale, there is no "correct" score;

b. Entities like companies and agencies cannot handle privacy issues according to one person's views about privacy.

In other words, the fact that you're an open book kind of person does not make it okay to impose an open book approach on people who are more closed book. If you are closed book you can't impose that view either because it could limit your organization's ability to serve its customers. Most importantly, the way you handle other people's private data has to be in accordance with their view, not yours. That principle was established, in the context of computer data, back in 1974, and remains one of the pillars of privacy best practices in the realm of data protection (see Chapter 3 of Privacy for Business, available as a free .pdf file here).

Several years ago I put together a short set of slides on the privacy meter and the potential benefits and problems arising from getting privacy positioning right or wrong. You can click here to download the slides as a .pdf file which I recently updated to include Facebook's current privacy perception problem. That slide is pretty easy to understand:

Just a few hours after Wired puts out the story that your CEO doesn't believe in privacy, PC World publishes a story about the latest privacy invading scam that your system is enabling. Not good. Just the sort thing that can hurt your share price and tarnish your brand. Which is why your personal feelings about privacy should probably remain private when you are running a company.

[BTW, you can now download the full 240 page text of Privacy for Business (2002) as an Adobe Acrobat document from this web site; there's no charge and no registration required.]

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