Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Zuckerberg's privacy trade-off

Facebook spends a disproportionate amount of time and money persuading us to leave our data in its capable hands. At least, its efforts appear disproportionate to the average user. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who lists "openness" as one of his interests on his own Facebook profile, is desperate to sell us his vision of the future, if only to prop up Facebook's ambitious $10bn valuation. That future precludes privacy.

To Zuckerberg and his shareholders, disclosure is the new discretion. To justify the business model, all of our likes and dislikes must be indexed and segmented at the behest of Facebook's eventual paymasters. Privacy must die if Facebook is to live.

The average user may not fully comprehend the company's goals, but that won't stop them feeling cheated once the targeting begins in earnest. As the Guardian points out:

"...the internet has proved resistant to overt commercialisation in the past. When Rupert Murdoch's News Corp bought MySpace for $580m in July 2005, the company used it to plug its own products and the site's hip audience of teenage music fans soon began to search for other online hangouts."

But moral outrage is generational, argues Web entrepreneur David Murray-Hundley. "We're very good in technology at saying, 'this generation doesn't get it, let's concentrate on the one behind'."

"It scares the crap out of most people," adds Murray-Hundley. "But look at the generation behind. They give up their data. An 18-20 year-old will give you the whole world."

That we are outraged while Facebook grows ever more powerful is no longer a paradox. It is simply a demographic shift. The appeal of Zuckerberg's trade-off, access for data, is a gamble on social media's popularity and eventual ubiquity. Don't bet against it.

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