Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the Privacy Hot Seat at D8
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was last on the D stage–at D6 in 2008–the company was still reeling from the privacy backlash over its Beacon advertising system. Months earlier, Zuckerberg had apologized for Facebook’s disregard for member privacy and announced some fundamental changes to appease critics. Asked during the interview what the Beacon fiasco had taught him about leadership, Zuckerberg said he’d learned that if you give people control over their information, they’re more willing to share it.
Now, two years later, Zuckerberg will once again take the D stage. And once again, his appearance follows another privacy debacle, another apology and another rejiggering of the company’s privacy safeguards. Let’s see what he has to say about leadership this time around.
4:54 pm: “There are a lot of things to talk about with Mark,” says Kara. “And I think he’s got a lot of guts coming up here.”
4:54 pm: Walt kicks things off by asking about Facebook’s business. It’s based on sharing, but there is this perception that you’re on a course to push people’s information into a position where it’s visible on the Internet. Is that correct?
Zuckerberg: Privacy is very important to us. I think there are some misperceptions. People use Facebook to share and to stay connected. You don’t start off on Facebook being connected to your friends, you’ve got to be able to find them. So having some information available broadly is good for that. Now, there have been misperceptions that we’re trying to make all information open, but that’s false. We encourage people to keep their most private information private. But some of the most basic information, we suggest that people leave public.
4:58 pm: Zuckerberg–We recommend settings for people, and we asked that everyone review their settings and make a choice about what they wanted them to be. We didn’t simply change them….The big feedback that we got was that the privacy settings had become too complex. Over the years we’d just accumulated many, many settings.
4:59 pm: Walt–The real issue here is whether people trust that you are still on board with the idea that they thought you were on board with when they joined: That you will keep the information they want to be private, private. But you’ve done some abrupt things and forced people to do something to maintain their privacy settings. Why are you making me have to take steps to protect my information?
Zuckerberg dodges. Talks about the serendipitous connections that Facebook enables. Offers an anecdote about meeting someone for dinner.
5:03 pm: More on serendipitous connections. Zuckerberg continues with this theme until Walt jumps in and asks him to answer the original question.
5:04 pm: Zuckerberg stresses that people can still control their Facebook information. More than 50 percent of Facebook users have changed their privacy settings at one point. That demonstrates that our users understand the tools, he says. “To me, that’s a signal that on the whole, we’re getting it right and giving people the control they want.”
5:05 pm: Kara–So do you feel this recent backlash against you is unfair? How do you explain the hubbub around this? She notes some old inflammatory college IM messages of his that have been making the rounds lately that suggest he may have a cavalier attitude towards privacy.
Zuckerberg: When I was in college I did a lot of stupid things and I don’t want to make an excuse for that. Some of the things that people accuse me of are true, some of them aren’t. There are pranks, IMs…. I started building this when I was around 19 years old, and along the way, a lot of stuff changed. We went from building a service in a dorm room to running a service that 500 million people use.
Kara: But people want to know about you. Do you feel that you’re adequately portrayed?
Zuckerberg seems confounded for a moment. Then recounts his oft-told story of moving to California and being approached with offers to buy the company. Another long rambling answer to a simple question. Finally: “I can’t go back and change the past, I can only do the best that I can do moving forward.”
Kara and Walt again circle back to the issue of privacy. Is Zuckerberg attempting to force his vision of privacy on all of Facebook?
5:08 pm: [My God, Zuckerberg is literally dissolving in a lake of his own sweat. He is visibly flushed, and you can see the beads of sweat rolling down his face. Could this be his Nixon moment?]
Kara sympathizes, suggests he take off the hoodie he’s wearing, “You all right?” she asks. “We’re not even yelling at you…yet.”
Zuckerberg refuses to take off the hoodie. “I never take it off,” he says. Then he wipes the sweat from his brow, looks at the resulting water stain on his arm, says “whoa,” relents and takes it off.
5:10 pm: Kara helps him and then examines the hoodie. Evidently Facebook’s mission statement is printed inside it along with a giant Illuminati-style insignia (“Making the world more open and connected”). “Oh my God. You’re a cult!” jokes Kara, commenting on the emblem inside. Zuckerberg’s obviously relieved that the privacy questions have paused, at least for a moment.
Walt moves on. “So what is instant personalization?”
5:10 pm: Zuckerberg–“We have this strategy where what we’re trying to do is make it possible for everyone to design social apps where their contacts are at the center….What we’re trying to do now is to make it so that people can extend that to the rest of the Web….We’ve made it so that people can build these people-centric Web sites.” These points are buried in a long rambling answer. He’s fumbling here.
5:13 pm: Walt–Why not, when I log on to Facebook, give people the option to use instant personalization instead of automatically personalizing things for them?
Zuckerberg dodges again, then suggests that doing so would create “a lot more friction.”
Walt again tries to get him to answer the question at hand: But shouldn’t people make this decision themselves? Shouldn’t they have to opt in? [C’mon, Mark. Just answer the question. It would be so much easier….Over on Twitter, longtime tech observer Dan Gillmor just wrote: “Walt Mossberg insists on an answer re FB’s unilateral privacy changes; nope, still no answer.”]
Opt in versus opt out is part of a balance in sharing, says Zuckerberg. He rambles on for a while before noting some previous Facebook innovations that people rebelled against, that are today viewed as essential to the service. Newsfeed, for example. [At last a decent point.] “My prediction would be a few years from now is that we’ll all look back and wonder why these services weren’t personalized. The world is moving in this direction where everything is designed around people.”
5:17 pm: Kara–What’s your next big goal? What’s on the short-term horizon and the long-term horizon?
It’s tough to follow Zuckerberg’s answer, here. He seems to be replying to another question. He talks a bit about the development of applications. He says that the industry is moving into an age where more services will be built with people at their core.
5:20 pm: Walt, moving on again–What is the social graph? Is it something you control?
Zuckerberg: The idea of the social graph is that if you mapped out all the connections between people in the world it would form this graph, and that’s what we’re doing at Facebook. Once you’ve done that, you can start building services on them and enable this broader platform, build games, etc. A lot of people have characterized the social graph as something that we own or control, but we don’t.
5:22 pm: Kara–So what kind of power does Facebook have in this graph?
Zuckerberg: I think people look to us a the leader in this space. And I think there’s a widely held belief that we’re much closer to the beginning of the space than the end. It would be easy for us to just keep things as they are, but we don’t believe that if we did, we’d be doing the best thing for us or the industry. So we do what we think are the best things, even if they are controversial.
Walt: How does the social graph get monetized?
Relevant advertising, says Zuckerberg. And user engagement. He cites a recent campaign by Starbucks (SBUX), which was evidently quite successful. He says that people are sharing information about brands in the same way they are sharing information about themselves.
5:25 pm: Kara–Who are your competitors in this space?
Zuckerberg: We compete with different companies in different ways. One of the things I try to do as CEO of this company is not make mistakes that other companies make….I make different ones, he jokes. [Given his performance today, one wonders if he’s really qualified to be the public face of his company.]
The world is changing so quickly now that I think the biggest competitor for us is someone we haven’t heard of, Zuckerberg continues. So we just need to stay focused on doing what we do and doing at well.
5:27 pm: Kara–You’re going to be CEO of this company when it goes public?
Kara: When will that be?
Zuckerberg: I don’t know.
5:28 pm: Some more patter. Then Zuckerberg again circles back to this theme of a Web centered around people. This is obviously his D8 PR bullet point, just as “Facebook is about helping people to share information and share themselves” was his bullet point for D6.
Kara: How do you think you’ve changed as a CEO in the past few years?
Zuckerberg: I’ve always just focused on a couple of things. One is having a clear direction. The other is having a good team. Right now, I think we have a clear direction. We’ve got a lot of cool apps and a great platform. On the people side: Just continuing to bring in great people and putting them in positions that they’ll excel at is important. We’re out in the valley recruiting the very best people for the roles we have available in the company. I think as a company, if you get those two things right, then you can do pretty well.
Q (from RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser): Do you realize that you’ve built at the age of 26 one of the five most important Internet companies in the world? Because of that, people view you differently. How do you deal with that?
A: Maybe I’m in denial. I think our goals haven’t really changed much at all. We don’t think of the company as successful. We know that we have a service that many people use. But it goes back to this concept where I really think we’re just a lot closer to the beginning than the end. Personally, I have a core group of people that I really trust, and that’s what I care about: Those people that share my values and the values of the company.
Q: Who’s your role model? Who would be the best person to run Facebook–aside from you?
A: [Pause] I don’t think I can answer either of those questions. I feel like I learn the most from the people around me now. [Who’s your role model? Easy question, Mark. How about “my Mom.” … No real answer.] … I think if something happened to me you could pick any of the people around me and they’d do a great job of running the company. And that’s important because we’re still a very small company.
Q: I’ve heard that you’re going to offer an email platform. Is that true?
A: We’re not building a Web-mail competitor. People already use Facebook for messaging. There are definitely these great services that people use that are full Web-mail clients, but I think the opportunity is more around short-form communications.
Q: How are important decisions made at Facebook?
A: We’re a company where there’s a lot of open dialogue. We have crazy dialogue and arguments. Every Friday, I have an open Q&A where people can come and ask me whatever questions they want. We try to do what we think is right, but we also listen to feedback and use it to improve. And we look at data about how people are using the site. In response to the most recent changes we made, we innovated, we did what we thought was right about the defaults, and then we listened to the feedback and then we holed up for two weeks to crank out a new privacy system.
Q: When it comes to Facebook, what’s your opinion of Flash?
A: We’re agnostic on that issue. I tend to believe more in the Web than apps. The thing that I actually care a lot more about is how you integrate people into all this stuff.
Q: I wonder if you can comment on what it means for Facebook to have mobile apps?
A: Our mobile experience is growing really quickly. It’s well more than 100 million people using Facebook on their phones right now. I think that one of the challenges of mobile is that there’s no standard platform yet. Is it going to be Android, iPhone, HTML apps?
Q: Will you have an iPad app?
A: I assume that we will.
And that’s a wrap!
A note about our coverage: This liveblog is not an official transcript of the conversation that occurred onstage. Rather, it is a compilation of quotes, paraphrased statements and ad-lib observations written and posted to the Web as quickly as possible. It is not intended as a transcript and should not be interpreted as one.