Pando

We shouldn't be skeptical or amused at Zuckerberg's "pivot to privacy" memo. We should be disgusted

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on March 7, 2019

From The Disruption Desk

The media reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s memo on privacy and Facebook has mostly fallen into two distrinct camps: skeptical enthusiasm and open mockery.

Skeptical enthusiasm as typified by Mashable’s helpful warning that “if the last 15 years of Facebook have taught us anything, it's that we shouldn't take Zuckerberg's words at face value” and the Washington Post’s adorably credulous claim that “should [Zuckerberg's] ambition be realized, it is nothing less than an epochal shift in Facebook’s business model.”

Mockery like this TechCrunch headline about how Zuckerberg has suddenly “discovered privacy,” and amused tweets like...

Even Zuckerberg himself acknowledged how hard it is to believe that Facebook really cares about creating a space where users can communicate privately and in small numbers.

"I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform — because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services..."

I mean, we killed democracy, gave a platform to Nazis, sold your data to the highest bidder so… kinda hard to believe a single word we say, right?

Ho ho ho!

No.

There’s nothing epoch-making about Zuckberberg’s blog post, nor should we be cautious in taking him "at face value." We certainly shouldn’t be rolling our eyes or chuckling.

In fact, there's only one proper reaction to Zuckerberg’s latest cutesy missive promising that Facebook has really truly learned its lesson this time and will henceforth give a shit about your privacy.

Anger.

Because it is nothing less than outrageous that, once again, Facebook is telegraphing just how fucking stupid it truly believes its users (and the rest of us) to be.

From the company’s very beginnings, in scandal after scandal, Facebook has sold out users – their data, their privacy, their brains, and even their democratic freedoms – in pursuit of Mark Zuckerberg’s obsessive, unwavering personal belief that a more connected world is a more perfect world.

And time and time again, when one of these scandals is exposed, Zuckerberg has trotted out some variation of his trademark adorkable “I am Mark Zuckerberg and I am just a robot who doesn’t understand your human notions of data and security and privacy and honesty beep beep buzz”routine. A routine often paired with some facile sop to critics like banning an obscure right wing blogger or briefly partnering with a non-profit fact checking organization to “combat” fake news.

Then the moment Zuck hits publish on his blog, or turns off his webcam (being sure to replace the little piece of tape covering the lens) he gets right back to work: Packing his public policy team with abuser-supporting right wingers, lobbying politicians to circumvent data protection laws, stockpiling and selling our data to the highest bidder, and helping to incite genocide

And don’t just take my word for it. The Daily Beast has a handy round up of a few recent scandals: 

The company was caught in a lie about the number of teenagers it spied on using a VPN app last Fridaythe same day users realized that the company was now making users searchable using the phone numbers it swore blind it only wanted for security purposes. This is distinct from the time it was accused in court of lying about faulty video metricsthat more than doubled the figures it used to charge advertisers, the time it said it would purge pages related to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and then didn’t, the time Sheryl Sandberg suddenly remembered she actually had instructed a PR agency to trash George Soros contrary to what she’d said earlier, and of course, the time the company banded together to dissemble about whether or not the Russian military had used its platform to distribute electioneering propaganda to scores of millions of Americans, which only came to light because of research by the Tow Center’s Jonathan Albright.

I mean, Christ, Zuckerberg can’t even bring himself to remove Peter “I donated more than a million dollars to get Trump elected” Thiel from his board even as he pretends to be shocked – SHOCKED – that Trump and the Russians used Facebook to… get Trump elected. (Disclosure: Peter Thiel is a Pando investor through Founders Fund.)

And, double Christ, Zuckerberg has the brass gall to cite WhatsApp in his blog post as an example of the kind of privacy-focused strategy he wants to pursue. This being the same WhatsApp whose founders quit Facebook – leaving a pile of money on the table - after clashing with Zuckerberg over his “approach to user data, advertising, and encryption.”

It’s breathtaking: To actually boast about buying an ultra-privacy-obsessed competitor only to drive out the founders because they couldn’t get on board with his quest to undermine user security and privacy.  And this is his model for his new more trustworthy Facebook.

So, no, Mark we don’t believe you or Facebook cares about privacy - not least because, based on all available evidence, you don't believe it either. The notion that this time you might be willing to change your entire business model, your entire ethical core,  is as ridiculous as the idea that you care about keeping women safe on your platform, or driving out hate, while hiring Kavanaugh apologists to your executive team and continuing to pander to right wing trolls.

Nor is the “pivot to privacy” a harmless PR exercise like the time McDonalds decided to put apple slices in happy meals to pretend it suddenly gave a shit about childhood obesity. Not least because in that case, McDonalds actually did put Apples in Happy Meals. If Zuck were the CEO of McDonalds he’d simply cross out the word “cheeseburger” from the box and write “apple” above it in Sharpie. Then six month later, we’d find out that there was lead paint in the plastic toys and Ronald had sold out American democracy to the Hamburglar. 

Sure, we can eye-roll and chuckle at the latest episode of the “Mark Zuckerberg is learning” show. Laughing at billioanires is fun! But the mockery doesn’t really land when all evidence suggests the person we’re ridiculing doesn’t care a jot about our disapproval, any more than he cares about the WhatsApp founders concerns about ”user data, advertising, and encryption.” 

In other words, Mashable is flat wrong when it says we shouldn’t take Zuckerberg at face value. We absolutely should. He has shown us plainly and repeatedly over more than a decade that he has never cared, and will never care, about the privacy of Facebook users. It’s time we believed him.