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Jan. 10 2010 - 2:11 pm | 544 views | 0 recommendations | 10 comments

Zuckerberg’s right: Young people don’t care (as much) about privacy

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook SXSWi 2008 Keynote

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laughs in the face of privacy

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed Friday in an interview with Techcrunch founder Mike Arrington that the age of privacy is over.

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”

-Mark Zuckerberg via Mike Arrington interrogates Mark Zuckerberg.

(When it comes to “sharing more openly,” Zuckerberg personally has a mixed record. He accidentally exposed his photos and events when Facebook recently changed its privacy settings. I questioned him last month through a Facebook spokesperson and via a Facebook message about that mistake, and he has not responded.)

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb is skeptical of Zuckerberg’s claims:

This is a radical change from the way that Zuckerberg pounded on the importance of user privacy for years. That your information would only be visible to the people you accept as friends was fundamental to the DNA of the social network that hundreds of millions of people have joined over these past few years. Privacy control, he told me less than 2 years ago, is “the vector around which Facebook operates.”

I don’t buy Zuckerberg’s argument that Facebook is now only reflecting the changes that society is undergoing. I think Facebook itself is a major agent of social change and by acting otherwise Zuckerberg is being arrogant and condescending….

This major reversal, backed-up by superficial explanations, makes me wonder if Facebook’s changing philosophies about privacy are just convenient stories to tell while the company shifts its strategy to exert control over the future of the web.

via Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over.

But Zuckerberg is actually right about social norms changing. A recent Pew survey on “the comparative opinions of Millennials (18 to 29 age group) vs. older age groups” supports his claim.

Hat tip to David DiSalvo on the survey. He writes about the generational breakdown at Brainspin:

When asked about “More surveillance and security,” the Millennials and Xers say “bring it on!”  You want to pat me down, X-ray me, go through my bags and videotape me?  No worries, we’re on board to the tune of 66 and 61%.  Boomers, those traditional stalwart defenders of privacy, were a bit more skeptical on this one (52%) but only a hair more skeptical than their elders (54%).

via David Disalvo – Brainspin – True/Slant.

Kirkpatrick suggests that Facebook itself might be a major agent of this change. And perhaps it is. But people overall seem relatively happy about Facebook & co.:

The public is ambivalent when it comes to evaluating social networking sites such as Facebook. About a third (35%) call them a change for the better, 21% say they have been a change for the worse, while 31% say social networking sites have not made much of a difference and 12% are unsure. In fact, even among young people, fewer than half (45%) say social networking sites have been a change for the better.

Current Decade Rates as Worst in 50 Years: Overview – Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Thirteen percent of Millennials responded that MyFaceFriendster have been a change for the worse. That may be the case for the ones who use the sites solely for Zombie Wars.


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  1. collapse expand

    Ms. Hill,

    You might caveat your piece by saying it is about people in the US. Ideas of privacy are very different elsewhere in the world. People in other countries are used to the idea of “living in each others pockets” as the Irish say. Many come here and find that greater privacy is the same as greater isolation. Even in the US in small towns, everyone knows each others business and there are few secrets.

    What seems to me to be different, being old I cannot speak with much authority, is that people are willing to acknowledge and even publish what would otherwise be the subject of gossip. In the past, everyone knew what so&so did at the party last Saturday night and talked about it, but so&so would not acknowledge it and pretend it did not happen. Now so&so puts the photos of the party on his or her Facebook photo page.

    Perhaps do know any more than we did before, we just acknowledge knowing more than we did before.

    • collapse expand

      David, I think you are absolutely right about this. It goes along with the current concept of “no shame,” just barreling ahead and sharing. That, I think, has a lot to do with reality Tv.

      But you are also right about the pretend secrecy of other cultures. Is that a way, in the end, to protect individual privacy?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        There may be an aging aspect of this- so-called Millennials haven’t hit the job market in force yet. Privacy concerns as a teen are different from those as a mid-career adult.
        I don’t doubt that standards are eroding, but the teen set hasn’t yet faced the realities of reputation and employment. And I’m wondering how long before they dream up an internet “character score” to go along with your credit scores in future applications.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Hello Susan,

        Thank you for the posting. You asked “Is that a way, in the end, to protect individual privacy?”

        My answer would be no, it is not protecting individual privacy but to “save face”. In all cultures people have a public persona (or personae in some cases) and a private inner self. In some cultures this dichotomy is openly recognized and addressed while in others it something that is not spoken of publicly. It is not unusual for everyone to know an embarrassing fact about a particular individual but no one publicly acknowledges this to save that persons public standing, persona, or “face”. The higher the individuals social status is, the more willing people will be to publicly protect his or her “honor” so as not bring “shame” on him or her, and by extension to the rest of community. People of less social standing are less frequently extended this service. Every society has this Honor / Shame dynamic, in some it is the dominant social dynamic while in others it is less so.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Nicely put.
          Perhaps unrelated, but a prof of mine once said that “you should not write the way you speak, but the way you should be thinking.” What privacy foes imply is that we’re all alike, therefore, nobody is better than anyone else.
          This separation between the public and private can in one sense be seen as hypocritical. But perhaps another perspective is that our public face is what we should aspire to. We do shower and brush our teeth in the morning, and nobody protests this as a lie concealing our true inner bedhead. (Not once did I ever heard anyone complain on the subway of this hypocrisy of personal hygiene!) Our private lives ought to be kept separate from our public lives, because collectively, our public faces can inspire ourselves and others to become better people than we are, not to merely aim for a hair better than the lowest common denominator.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Hello SteveInTransit,

            Your points are all well taken, I would suspect that it is actually a healthy thing for our sometimes many public personae to be different from our inner self. The problem arises on a personal level when the two are in opposition. This personal problem usually has social and political origins when some personal lives are judged to be dishonorable, if not actually illegal. Homosexuality is an example of this where many people have felt obliged to adopt an outward heterosexual, or even anti-homosexual persona but lived their personal lives as the opposite.

            The hypocrisy with this dichotomy is not the separation of personal and public lives but with what constitutes “honorable” and “shameful” and the fact some individuals are given much greater latitude to maintain public honor while practicing private shame. I remember a conservation I heard in country where homosexuality is illegal and is considered shameful. An individual was commenting how homosexuality is a sin. The other person in the conversation remarked how the mayor the local municipality, a person of considerable social standing, was a lesbian and how no one in this town seemed to think anything of this fact as she had been elected and re-elected to her position many times. The mayor never publicly declared herself a lesbian but lived her entire adult live in a house with another woman who was not her servant. The two women went to all social functions together, both family and public, and even took mass together at church, although without any PDAs. Everyone knew nature of the relationship but it was never commented upon in public. The original commenter harrumphed and said, “Well that was different”.

            Here in lays the potential for hypocrisy, a women of lesser social standing would not have been extended this same courtesy in this same town and country. A poor lesbian living in an otherwise identical situation would be a social outcast.

            Additionally, it often occurs that standards of “honor” and “shame” are outdated or inequitable, ignoring whether they are applied in a non-egalitarian fashion or not.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Hey Kashmir, interesting post, but I think you’re pushing the data where it can’t go. 10% isn’t really that big a difference, hardly a generational divide (just 5 out of 100 boomers and Millennials respond differently and all difference disappears). But more to the point, a snapshot now says nothing about change over time. Maybe boomers were even more cavalier about privacy when they (we?) were in our 20s. Maybe when today’s Millennials, remember it just has to be a few more our of 100, have more of life’s battle scars they too would answer at 52% rather than 61.

    We just don’t know. What we do know is that Zuckerberg would be sitting on a gold mine of information if people loosened their attachment to privacy. It seems to me people who have a vested interest in destroying privacy should not be believed when then say good riddance to it. For most people, it’s a right like all others requiring struggle — and the way to protect it is not to give it to people like Zuckerberg in exchange for access to some fun tools.

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    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

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