Consider this alleged conversation between Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg and a friend which supposedly took place shortly after Facebook was launched:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks.
Leaving aside if this conversation actually happened or not, the second last statement highlights what I think has been the key reason for Facebook’s growth: Trust.
There seems to be a common belief among the majority of Facebook’s users that whatever they do or post on the site remains under their own control. Giving benefit of the doubt, perhaps this was the case in the early days of Facebook when pressure to commercialize all accumulated user data wasn’t that great. Today however, as Facebook is trying to convert itself into a large and profitable company, I do not see any credible evidence why they should not try to commercially exploit as much of their users’ data as possible. In consequence, Facebook cannot be trusted with any kind of personal data or information since users can now safely assume that Facebook will unilaterally break their trust, in order to profit from making private user data publicly available, e.g. to advertisers.
Of course, some will now argue that Facebook would be committing suicide as a business if it were to disclose all of its users’ data over time in exchange for profit. However, I’d argue, how else can they make the amount of money they are aiming for without such measures? Currently, I don’t see any way out of this dilemma for them.
In fact, I find it highly ironic that publication of the above chat conversation added to Facebook’s recent bad publicity in the same way that Facebook itself is dealing with its users: By unilaterally breaking the (unspoken) trust, that what was exchanged in that conversation would stay private among the two parties.
This is no different than the discussion about Trusted Computing from several years ago which was nicely summarized in the video below:
I’m curious as to how things develop for them in the next years. And you definitely won’t see me signing up anytime soon.