Things just got personal for Mark Zuckerberg. 

That's the bottom line of the new details that have emerged about the settlement between Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over an investigation into concerns about how the company handles users' information. The settlement will require the company's 35-year-old CEO to put his own name on the line for the sake of his users. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the FTC will require that in addition to the company's paying a $5 billion fine, Zuckerberg will attest on a quarterly basis that, according to his own personal knowledge, the company has privacy protections in place. 

Some observers had raised concerns that, despite the record fine levied, nothing would really change, since the penalty was just the cost of doing business for Facebook. (In fact, I argued that Facebook basically got off easy since it wouldn't have to make any real changes.)

This requirement certainly changes things.

The FTC has little power to impose much in the way of actual punishment for violating consumers' privacy, except in the case where it enters into an agreement and a company continues to cross the line. Facebook entered into one such agreement after 2011, but clearly continued its problematic practices, as shown by the Cambridge Analytica scandal that came to light after the 2016 election. 

As a result, the FTC dropped the hammer on the company with its largest fine ever. Now, it appears that while Facebook avoids admitting any guilt, it might actually have to make changes--or its CEO will be personally liable for any future violations.

I'm not sure I'd want to be Mark Zuckerberg today. 

But here's a question to consider: Would you be willing to sign your name to say that you're doing everything you can to respect and protect your users' privacy, or even their best interests?

The easy answer is "Sure, of course I would," but when you think about it, this has real implications for your business. It requires you to consider the balance between the interests of your business and those of your customers--which, let's face it, isn't always easy, or even obvious.

Previously, I wrote (about Mark Zuckerberg actually) about the problem of the true believer, and it applies here: 

Mark Zuckerberg is a true believer. That's certainly a valuable quality in a founder, but unfortunately, it means he genuinely doesn't get it. He genuinely doesn't understand why people are so concerned about privacy, or fake news, or being stalked around the internet.

Because he is a true believer, he can't imagine why anyone might have problems with the company's policies and practices ... The true believer sees the idealistic version of his or her enterprise, which means they often don't see the "realistic" version.

Zuckerberg is now forced to see reality, which can be hard for any founder or entrepreneur. The lesson here is that you're accountable for that reality whether you see it or not. You're responsible for managing it, which means that it would be far better to put in place the systems and people that can help you see more clearly.

Otherwise, someone might come along and make you personally responsible, whether you like it or not.  

Published on: Jul 24, 2019
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