One of the more interesting insights that comes from Mark Zuckerberg's lost journal pages, as reported by Wired's Steven Levy, is that even early on, the Facebook founder clearly wanted people to feel like they are having a private experience. Specifically, Levy points to a question scrawled on one page: "What makes this seem secure, whether or not it actually is?"

The pages were from a journal kept by Zuckerberg in 2006, when Facebook was considering two important changes. First, it would soon open its registration to anyone. Back then, Facebook was open only to college and high school students, and networks were limited to fellow students. Allowing anyone with an email address would be a huge change.

Second, the company was considering allowing users to set up profiles for their friends who hadn't signed up, so they could be tagged in photos, etc. Facebook would then notify the person every time they were tagged or mentioned as a way of enticing them to sign up. 

In that context, Zuckerberg's question seems particularly sinister. It's as if he was asking, "how can I make this very public and invasive thing actually seem private." I guess you could argue that a younger Mark Zuckerberg should be given the benefit of the doubt, except that line of thinking would explain just about every major Facebook decision made since.

Facebook, despite its popularity, has never had a reputation for protecting the privacy of its users. In fact, in example after example, we discover how Facebook has done the opposite. Not only have we seen far too many cases of data breaches and privacy violations, but the company's entire business model is about collecting your personal information and using it to target you with ads. 

In reality, the company is still struggling with the exact same questions. During a panel discussion at this year's CES, Facebook's head of privacy efforts, Erin Egan, said that on Facebook, "privacy is protected," and that the company does everything "in a privacy-protective manner." The audience actually laughed at that. It seems utterly absurd to anyone who is paying attention that Facebook does anything in a way that is designed to protect user privacy instead of monetizing it.

Perhaps she was just hoping that no one would remember the company's business model is the literal opposite of privacy. Or maybe just she meant that the "appearance of privacy is protected." 

Published on: Feb 17, 2020
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