Facebook’s Zuckerberg Questions Privacy Expectations

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Privacy is no longer a social norm, according to the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg commenting on the rise of social networking

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook has said that people no longer have an expectation of privacy thanks to increasing uptake of social networking.

Speaking at the Crunchie Awards in San Francisco this weekend, the 25 year-old web entrepreneur said: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

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Zuckerberg went on to add that the rise of social media reflects the changing attitudes among the general public, saying that this radical change has happened in the space of five years.

“When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was, ‘why would I want to put any information on the Internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?’,” he said.

“And then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information,” he said.

Facebook is estimated to have over 100 million users in the United States alone, and more than 350 million users worldwide. Zuckerberg’s comments come after the social networking giant recently decided to (somewhat controversially) change the privacy settings of all its users.

In December, Facebook launched a number of new tools which enabled users to control who sees what content on their account, as well as a Transition Tool and simplified privacy settings.

The issue of privacy is a vexed one, especially in the United Kingdom where, late last year, the Home Office pledged to push ahead with controversial plans to monitor all Internet use. The Ministry is requiring communications firms to monitor all Internet use, and is asking them to retain information on how people use social networks such as Facebook.

Yet the dangers posed by people opening up online to the rest of the world is well know. Back in August, a survey sponsored by British insurance firm Legal & General found that users of social networking sites were giving away vital information about themselves and their whereabouts that was being used by professional burglars to establish a list of targets. The report, “The Digital Criminal,” found that 38 percent of users of sites such as Facebook and Twitter have posted status updates detailing their holiday plans and a third of people have posted status updates saying that they are away for the weekend.

Zuckerberg also said it was important for companies such as Faceook, to reflect the changing social norms in order to remain relevant and competitive.

“A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built,” he said. “Doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do.

“But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.”

Photo credit: (CC) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com / bub.blicio.us / CC-BY