Yesterday, The Verge published a transcript of leaked audio from a Q&A session with Facebook employees and the company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. During that session, Zuckerberg covered a range of topics including how he would respond to an Elizabeth Warren presidency, the threat of government regulation, what he sees as competitive threats, and why he has no intention of giving up control of the company.
That's a lot of ground to cover--you can read the entire transcript yourself--but believe it or not, none of those topics is even the most interesting thing Zuckerberg had to say. Of course, Zuckerberg probably never intended most of what he had to say for public consumption, but he appears to stand behind his comments, based on his most recent Facebook post.
I think there are a lot of people curious about an "unfiltered version" of Mark Zuckerberg's thoughts, but to be honest, the most interesting thing Zuckerberg had to say might be easy to overlook at first. However, when you start to think about it, it should have you very worried.
"Over the long term, it really is profitable to do the right thing," he says at one point.
First of all, I think this is true. In fact, I don't think many people would argue against the idea that in the long run, doing the "right" thing is good for both your customers and your bottom line.
Second of all, there's no question that Zuckerberg is playing the long game. There's also no question that he's insanely smart. The problem is that all of that intelligence doesn't help him overcome a very simple problem: Mark Zuckerberg doesn't see Facebook as it actually is, he only sees the ideal version of it that he imagines in his own mind.
To understand this, you don't have to look any further than the fact Zuckerberg made that statement in the context of a justification for why he feels "lucky" that he has essentially total voting control over Facebook due to the company's share structure. As a result, he feels the freedom to make unpopular decisions that he believes are "right" for the business, and there's really nothing anyone can do about it.
I don't know of anyone, other than Mark Zuckerberg, who thinks that Mark Zuckerberg's total control over Facebook is a good thing.
It's true, some of his decisions have worked out pretty well for the company, or it wouldn't have 2-billion-plus users and be valued more than many nations. But I don't think it's a stretch to say that most of us probably define "right" differently than Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg seems to think that "right" means "I made this decision and it worked out okay for the company because we now make an insane amount of money." The problem is, there are plenty of things that have "worked out" for Facebook that aren't right for its users or the world.
Obsessively tracking everything your users do online and on their phones isn't "right." Telling users that protecting their own privacy is actually bad for them isn't "right." (Yes, he actually did that.) Allowing developers unfettered access to your private information isn't "right." Talking about how you're making changes to protect your users' privacy, without actually addressing the biggest problem--your business model--isn't right.
Doing what's in the best interest of your users, despite the fact it's hard or may not be profitable, is what most of us would consider "right." Doing the right thing means acknowledging that there is simply no way to balance user privacy with the monetization of their personal information.
Being "right" means being transparent about what you do with people's information, and providing them with "privacy by default," instead of burying privacy controls deep in a menu of settings that causes most people to simply give up and thereby give up all their info.
And, it means that just because something makes your company a ton of money, doesn't make it "right." The fact that even the unfiltered Zuckerberg doesn't seem to understand that is a reason we should all be worried.