11.30.11

The Truth About Facebook Privacy—if Zuckerberg Got Real

The social network just settled privacy charges with the FTC, and its CEO posted a lengthy non-apology on the company blog. But here’s what Mark Zuckerberg might have said if he dared to be brutally honest.

Dear Facebook Members,

Facebook has always believed in giving users complete control over how their private information gets shared. That’s why we have repeatedly faced complaints from users, and why the Federal Trade Commission investigated us and charged us with deceiving consumers, and why we now have settled those charges by agreeing to a bunch of lame-ass new rules that we will not actually follow and which would not accomplish anything even if we did.

The truth is, we have no interest in protecting your privacy, and if you still believe that we do, then you are stupider than we thought, and believe me, we already thought you were pretty stupid. Think about it. The only way our business works is if we can track what you do and sell that information to advertisers. Did you honestly not realize that?

You are not our customer. You are the product that we sell. For us to say we’re going to protect you is like the poultry industry promising to create more humane living conditions for chickens. Sure, they say that. But you know they don’t mean it.

Same with us. We will never, ever stop trying to pry data out of you. How could we? We’re a business. We’re doing this to make money. And our investors would like it very much if we can make absolutely as much money as possible. It’s simply not in our nature to stop. You know the fable about the scorpion and the frog? Yeah. It’s like that.

What’s more, I suspect you know this. You know who we are. You know what we’re up to. How could you not? How many times have we been busted for doing something creepy, and at first denied it, and then admitted it and promised to be nice guys from now on—only to turn right around and do something even worse?

Nevertheless, you stick around. Sure, you whine a lot, and you talk about leaving. But you never do, do you? Frankly, the only thing I can conclude from this is that despite all your complaining, at the end of the day you don’t really care about having your privacy invaded. You could leave any time you want. We’re not going to stop you. Nobody is putting a gun to your head and forcing you to use Facebook. But here you are.

For us to say we’re going to protect you is like the poultry industry promising to create more humane living conditions for chickens.

This isn’t just about Facebook. This is about Google, Apple, and Amazon. It’s Microsoft and Yahoo. It’s every social network, every location-based service. It’s the entire online ecosystem, this new bazillion-dollar industry, this global force that is disrupting every industry in the world by introducing a model where instead of paying for stuff with money you pay with your personal information. What are you going to do? Opt out of everything on the Internet? Good luck with that.

And you can complain all you want to government regulators, but do you really think this whole new industry is going to grind to a halt because a few hippies keep whining about privacy? Please. The FTC knows it can’t stop progress, which is why they let us off with a slap on the wrist. No fines. No penalties. No having to undo stuff we’ve already done. Just, from now on, if we make any changes, we have to let people opt in rather than forcing them to opt out. And for 20 years we have to let some independent auditor review our practices. Wow. Scary.

Here’s the truth. Privacy is a bullshit concept. Privacy was over a long time ago. But apparently the human brain can’t handle this kind of change unless it is doled out slowly, a teaspoon at a time. So we all keep living this lie and pretending that privacy exists and deserves to be protected. Fine. Whatever. We’ll play along, and gradually people will adapt. We’ll cooperate with government agencies that want to investigate us, and let them enjoy their little victory laps when they announce whatever toothless conditions they’re imposing on us.

It’s all kabuki theater, but it’s a small price to pay for the massive payday that we’re about to enjoy. As you may have seen this week, we’re planning an initial public offering of our stock. Our company is going to be worth $100 billion. That’s a whole lot of money, and to each and every one of our more than 800 million Facebook users, I want to say, thank you. By sharing your personal information—even if you did this unwittingly, or without your consent—you have done your small part to make this marvelous payday possible. Truly, and quite literally, we could not have done this without you. God bless.