Posts about facebook

Theft v. sharing

Surely New York Times columnist and former editor Bill Keller understands how specious his comparison between Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg is.

What’s the difference, I asked a tech-writer friend, between the billionaire media mogul Mark Zuckerberg and the billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch?
When Rupert invades your privacy, my friend e-mailed back, it’s against the law. When Mark does, it’s the future.
There is truth in that riposte: we deplore the violations exposed in the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s British tabloids, while we surrender our privacy on a far grander scale to Facebook and call it “community.”

Oh, come now. Murdoch’s henchmen steal private information through hacking phones and other nefarious means to splash it on the front pages of their rags. Facebook creates a platform that enables people to share with each other at their will, to connect, and to gather together to do anything from meeting for dinner to organizing a revolution. Surely Mr. Keller understands the difference between journalistic high crimes and felonies and providing a community with the means to organize itself — which, I argue, is what journalists should see as their mission.

Bill, I’ll send you a copy of my book, which explores the differences between privacy violated and publicness enabled.

Social (network) pressure

By adding an organ-donation tool to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg is setting up a dynamic of social pressure for virtue. Is that always good?

Now getting us to sign our drivers’ licenses so our vital bits can be harvested to save others’ lives is a moderately low-impact decision. But what about the occasional calls for folks to sign up to be tested for a marrow transplant — as in the drive for Super Amit? That’s no easy decision.

Imagine tomorrow, God forbid, one of your Facebook friends needs a kidney. There’s a tool staring you in the face asking you to get tested for a match. Do you join that lottery, getting tested and hoping to fail (or win)? Do you risk being shunned by your community if you don’t? Do you join in shunning others if they don’t?

I’m not proposing answers to those questions. Technology is pushing at our norms, forcing us to adapt, in so many ways, from how we communicate and converse to how we define what’s polite and what’s rude. This is a mighty poke. It will be fascinating to watch.

Facebook goes public: Zuckerberg in Public Parts & WWGD?

Relevant to the expected Facebook IPO announcement, here are excerpts from my interview with Mark Zuckerberg for Public Parts.

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“I’m in the first generation of people who really grew up with the internet,” Zuckerberg tells me. “Google came out when I was in middle school. Then there was Amazon and Wikipedia and iTunes and Napster. Each year, there were new ways to access information. Now you can look up anything you want. Now you can get cool reference material. Now you can download any song you want. Now you can get directions to anything. The world kept on getting better and better.”

In his words, we hear the inherent optimism that fuels the likes of him: that with the right tools and power in the right hands, the world will keep getting better. “On balance, making the world more open is good,” Zuckerberg says. “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” The optimist has to believe in his fellow man, in empowering him more than protecting against him. Zuckerberg believes he is helping us share, which will make the world more public and lead to greater transparency and trust, accountability and integrity. That, he says, is why he started Facebook—not, as The Social Network would have us believe, to get a girlfriend (he already had one, the same woman he still dates, Priscilla Chan) and not, as others say, because he is trying to force us into the public. He contends he is creating the tools that help people do what they naturally want to do but couldn’t do before. In his view, he’s not changing human nature. He’s enabling it.

“In the world before the internet and things like Facebook,” he says, “there was a huge amount of privacy through obscurity.” We didn’t have the choice and power we have now: “We had this culture where you were either a producer or a consumer.?.?.?.??It was a very bifurcated society—kind of unnatural.” That is, the tools of publicness, including the media, had been in the hands of the few; now they are in the hands of all. “So now the question isn’t, ‘Are you completely private?’ It’s, ‘Which things do you want to share and which things do you not?’?”

Zuckerberg says he wants to give his users control over what’s public and private. If that’s true, why does he keep getting in trouble regarding privacy? A few reasons: Some people complain that there aren’t enough privacy controls on Facebook. So the company adds controls. But then the complaint becomes that the controls are too complicated. When they are so complicated, users tend not to bother to adjust them and instead rely on Facebook’s default settings. Facebook has surprised its users with changes to those defaults, making them ever-more public—thus making its users more public, often whether they know it or not. And Facebook hasn’t been good at communicating with its users. When I tell Zuckerberg my thesis for this book about the benefits of sharing, he admits, “I hope you have better luck than we’ve had making that argument. I think we’re good at building products that hit the desire people have, not necessarily at expressing in English what the desire is.” Some would call that understatement. . . . .

In their efforts to motivate us to share, Facebook, Google, and other net services have a common, technohuman goal: to intuit our intent. They want to gather signals about us so they can tailor their content, services, and advertising to us. These services compete to find more ways to get us to generate signals—our locations, needs, tastes, relationships, ­histories—so they can recommend, say, the perfect restaurant for each of us, knowing where we are right now and what we like and who our friends are and what they like (and making money by giving us a well-targeted coupon for the establishment). These services come into conflict with privacy advocates because capturing and analyzing our signals to predict our desires can look to some like spying or mind reading. “How did you know I was going to France?” the skittish user wonders of Google. Likely because you searched for Paris, sir.

Zuckerberg believes that by giving you back information about your own life—your friends and what you and they like and do—you’ll get “a much clearer sense of what’s going on around you, allowing you to learn things you couldn’t otherwise—and just be better at being human.” The hubris is impressive: making better humans. Google merely wants to organize our information. Zuckerberg sees Facebook as a next step in the net’s evolutionary scale toward humanity. “They crawl the web,” he says. “But there’s nothing you can crawl to get information about people. It’s all in our minds. So in order to have that service, you need to build the tools that let people share.” He identifies what he contends is another difference between Facebook and its predecessors: “All the information that’s about you on Facebook, you chose to put there. The last wave of sites before that do not work that way.” Ad networks collect information about you from your behavior—in most cases anonymously—so they can target ads, but the process is opaque. “On Facebook, you get an ad about Green Day because you said you like Green Day.?.?.?.??I think these models where people have more control over stuff are going to be so much more powerful and expressive.” As he talks, I come to think of Google as the third-person web; it’s about others—them. Facebook endeavors to be the first-person web; it’s about me and us.

Zuckerberg has created an asset worth billions of dollars. Wall Street laughed—but the Valley didn’t—when Microsoft invested in Facebook in 2007 at a reported $15 billion valuation. By 2011, pundits pegged the value at $20 billion, $50 billion, even $100 billion. I believe he’s building something even bigger, with data as a new currency: We trade information about ourselves for information about what we want. Our reward is relevance. Zuckerberg disagrees with me, saying my thinking is not “the right frame.?.?.?.??I really think it’s more interaction-for-interaction than data-for-data.” Keeping users’ motives in mind is critical. Early location services—Google Latitude and Loopt—asked you to broadcast your location to the world without much reason to do so (and with some good reasons not to). Later services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places let you alert friends where you are so you can meet up. You interact with Facebook, telling it what you are up to, and in return you interact with friends. Interactions-for-interactions.

Zuckerberg contends that Facebook is not just a technology company but also a sociology company. I find that revealing. He’s not so much an engineer—he majored in both computer science and psychology—as he is a social engineer, building systems for humans, helping us do what we want to do?.?.?.??and what he wants us to do. Take Facebook friend lists. No one wants to sit down and make a list of friends. People say they want to—in Zuckerberg’s words—“subgroup their friends.” But in practice, who wants to bother? I have tried to subgroup contacts in my address book—fellow geeks here, journalism colleagues there, family here—but it’s tedious and I quickly give up. When you friend someone on Facebook and they friend you back, you end up with a list of your friends as a by?product. The reason you do it, Zuckerberg says, is because “it’s like a cool handshake. And then it’s the sum of 10 billion of those.” Once unlocked from their privacy, these small acts of publicness add up. “Some people just assume that being private is good,” Zuckerberg says, “whereas we’ve always come out saying no, no, people want to share some things and keep some things private and that’ll always be true. And as time goes on and more people find that it’s valuable to share things, they might share more things.” That is how he designs his systems, to make it fun and beneficial to share more and more.

Zuckerberg has his own, social version of Moore’s law—I call it Zuck’s law, though he doesn’t. It decrees: This year, people will share twice as much information as they did last year, and next year, they will share twice as much again. Facebook will expand to more users—from 750 million today to a billion soon?—and users will expand their sharing. Meanwhile, one Facebook investor, Yuri Milner, tells me that advances in artificial intelligence will get better and better at understanding and making use of all the service’s data. It has only just begun. “The default in society today still is, OK, I should not share it. The by?far default today is that everything’s anonymous,” Zuckerberg laments. “In the future, things should be tied to your identity, and they’ll be more valuable that way.” There is the master plan.

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And here is a snippet from What Would Google Do? about Zuckerberg:

I sat, dumbfounded, in an audience of executives at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum International Media Council in Davos, Switzerland, as the head of a powerful news organization begged young Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for his secret. Please, the publisher beseeched him, how can my publication start a community like yours? We should own a community, shouldn’t we? Tell us how.
Zuckerberg, 22 at the time, is a geek of few words. Some assume his laconicism is a sign of arrogance—that and his habit of wearing sandals at big business conferences. But it’s not. He’s shy. He’s direct. He’s a geek, and this is how geeks are. Better get used to it. When the geeks take over the world—and they will—a few blunt words and then a silent stare will become a societal norm. But Zuckerberg is brilliant and accomplished, and so his few words are worth waiting for.

After this publishing titan pleaded for advice about how to build his own community, Zuckerberg’s reply was, in full: “You can’t.”

Full stop. Hard stare.

He later offered more advice. He told the assembled media moguls that they were asking the wrong question. You don’t start communities, he said. Communities already exist. They’re already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better.

His prescription: Bring them “elegant organization.”

Let that sip of rhetorical cabernet roll around on the palate for a minute. Elegant organization. When you think about it, that is precisely what Zuckerberg brought to Harvard—then other universities, then the rest of the world—with his social platform. Harvard’s community had been doing what it wanted to do for more than three centuries before Zuckerberg came along. He just helped them do it better. Facebook enabled people to organize their social networks—the social graph, he calls it: who they are, what they do, who they know, and, not unimportantly, what they look like. It was an instant hit because it met a need. It organized social life at Harvard.

Disliking “Like” in Germany

There’s a hubbub brewing over privacy and Facebook in Germany — and, not for the first time, there’s misinformation involved. So I got on the phone to Facebook to get technical facts.

First, the news: Thilo Weichert, head of the office for data protection in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, issued a press release (conveniently translated into English) attacking and essentially outlawing the Facebook “Like” button on sites, telling them to take down the button — and, oddly, their fan pages — and threatening them with 50,000€ fines. He declared that “Like” violates German and European law because it sends data about users back to Facebook in the U.S. He went so far as to advise German users not to click on “Like” and even not to set up Facebook accounts.

I contacted Facebook and just spoke with the head of the platform, Carl Sjogreen, and the chief European spokesman, Stefano Hesse, to understand what really happens. This is what Sjogreen said:

Obviously, when you click on a “Like” button, you are telling the world you like something and so, of course, your identity and your affection are recorded and published at Facebook. If you are signed into Facebook when you visit a site with the “Like” button, obviously, Facebook’s servers will act on knowing who you are because it will tell you which of your friends also publicly liked this site.

In the case Weichert seems to be aiming at, If you are not signed into Facebook, your IP address will be sent back to Facebook but then your IP address is sent back to the servers of Google+ buttons, comment systems, and ads of all types. “That’s how browsers work,” Sjogreen said. “We don’t use that information in any way to create a profile for the user, as has been alleged here.”

Facebook send sites data in aggregate so they can see, for example, click-through rates for the “Like” button in various pages. Facebook erases IP data after 90 days. It does something else to further anonymize I hope to tell you about later.

“The only time ‘Like’ button information is associated with a particular person is when you are signed into Facebook and click,” Sjogreen said.

I see no violation of privacy, no sneaky stealing of user information worthy of this action and press release – which, by the way, Weichert issued without taking to Facebook. Indeed, Hesse told me that Facebook has been working with Weichert’s counterpart in Hamburg and that that office, he says, is pleased with what Facebook is doing.

But Weichert is a grandstander. I saw that first-hand when I debated him in a panel set up by the Green party in Berlin, where he attacked not only Google but his constituents — the people he is supposedly trying to protect — who use it: “As long as Germans are stupid enough to use this search engine,” he spat, “they don’t deserve any better.” He went farther, comparing Google with China and Iran. “Google’s only interest is to earn money,” he said, as if shocked. That theme continues in his Facebook attack, where he complains that the company is worth more than $50 billion. No, he’s not from the Communist part.

Earlier today, I went to search GoogleNews for “Facebook” and “Schleswig-Holstein” to find news on the event but found something else interesting, which I discussed — to considerable controversy — in a Google+ post: A politician from Schleswig-Holstein just resigned in shame after confessing to an affair via Facebook with a 16-year-old girl. To me, there’s an obvious paradox there: Aren’t government officials trying first to protect the privacy and thus safety of our young people? Yet here is a government official exploiting a young girl via Facebook. Facebook is not the threat here; the government official is. In my earlier post, I said that in some states in the U.S., this would be statutory rape. Much upset ensued. But I still don’t get it. Who’s protecting whom from whom?

This is why I focused so much on Germany in my book, Public Parts, because it is grappling with privacy and technology in ways that are similar to other cultures, only amplified and skewed.

In any case, I wanted to get to the facts here and that’s why I’m posting this.

One identity or more?

Given the discussion about Facebook enabling other sites to use its comment infrastructure — and what that means for identity and anonymity in discussion — I thought I’d share some of what I’m saying about the question of multiple identities in my book, .

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One tactic to cope with the fear of exposure and overexposure is anonymity. Anonymity has its place. It protects the speech of Chinese dissidents, Iranian protestors, and corporate whistleblowers. It allows Wikileaks to expose secrets. It helps people share, for example, medical data and benefit others without having to reveal themselves. It lets people play with new identities. When the game company Blizzard Entertainment tried to bring real identity into the forums around its massive, multi-player games, including World of WarCraft, players revolted, and no wonder: Who wants everyone to know that in your other life, you see yourself as a level 80 back-stabbing night elf rogue who ganks lowbies at the Crossroads? Taking on identities—pseudonymity—is the fun of it.

But anonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls—of the human race, not the WarCraft type—attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.

Real identity has improved the tone and tenor of interaction online. That was Facebook’s key insight. Twitter’s, too. Tweeters want credit for their cleverness; they are rewarded with followers and retweets, their nanoseconds of microfame. Facebook is built on real relationships with real people in real life. “The whole thing was based on this foundation of reality,” Mark Zuckerberg says in an interview. “That doesn’t mean that every single thing is true. But on balance, I think it’s a lot more real than other things on the internet. In that way, I think, yes, it does create authenticity.”

Zuckerberg believes we have one authentic identity and says it is becoming “less and less true” that people will maintain separate identities. Emily Gould, admitted oversharer, agrees. Julia Allison, on the other hand, sides with those who say we should maintain many identities—one for work, another for school, another for home, another for friends. Those folks say we get in trouble online when these identities mix and blur, when our boss sees our picture from the college beer party (as if bosses never had beer). In a New York Times Magazine piece arguing that “the internet records everything and forgets nothing,” Jeffrey Rosen tells the story of a 25-year-old student-teacher who was deprived of her diploma after posting a MySpace photo of herself drinking over the caption, “Drunken Pirate.” On his blog, Scott Rosenberg counters that “the photo is harmless; the trouble lies with the people who have turned it into a problem.”

What needs to change is not so much our behavior, our rules, or our technology but, again, our norms: how we operate as a society and interact with each other. When presented with someone’s public face, which may differ from our own, is our response to disapprove, condemn, ridicule, and snipe, or is it to try to understand differences, offer empathy, overlook foolishness, offer freedom, and share in kind? When we do the former—and we all have—we are guilty of intolerance, sometimes bigotry. When we do the latter we become open-minded. I suggested in my last book that because we are all more public, we will soon operate under the doctrine of mutually assured humiliation: I’ll spare you making fun of your embarrassing pictures if you’ll do the same for me. “An age of transparency,” says author David Weinberger, “must be an age of forgiveness.”

There are two forces at work here: identity and reputation. Our identities are the first-person expressions of ourselves. Our reputations are others’ third-person views of us. Thanks to our increasing publicness, the two are coming closer and sometimes into conflict. As I was discussing these topics on my blog, Weinberger left a sage comment wondering about what he called the private-public axis:

Marilyn Monroe was a public figure but most of us are private citizens. That used to be pretty easy to compute and, because of the nature of the broadcast medium, it used to tend toward one extreme or another: He’s Chevy Chase and you’re not. But there’s another private-public axis: who we really are and how we look to others. We have tended to believe, at least in the West, that our true self is the inner self. The outer, public self may or may not reflect our inner, private self, and we have an entire moral/normative vocabulary to talk about the relation of the two: sincerity, authenticity, integrity, honesty….

Those are the two identities we are trying to manage—not our work selves and our home selves, not our party selves and our serious selves, but our inner, real selves and our outer, show selves. When our inner and outer selves get into conflict and confusion, we look inauthentic and hypocritical. In all our spoken fears about privacy and publicness, I think this is the great unspoken fear: that we’re not who people think we are, and we’ll be found out.

These are new skills for everyone, celebrity and commoner alike. Marilyn Monroe never had to deal with blogs and Twitter, let alone 24-hour TV news. She had press agents to create and manage her identity and big, frightening security people to keep the scary strangers away. Today, stars and pols have to deal with being constantly exposed. When they are caught in a contradiction of words or deeds—not exactly a challenge—they suffer the gotcha. Then again, stars like Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga, and Howard Stern are grabbing the opportunity on Twitter to interact directly with their publics without scripts or PR people in-between., which makes a business out of helping people whose online reputation is being harmed by others, suggests that the solution is not to hide but to publish more about yourself so that will rise in Google’s search about you. The way to improve your reputation is to share more of your identity.

The best solution is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk with your shrink. Better yet, blog about it.