Is Mark Zuckerberg Right About Privacy?

Mark Zuckerberg’s mouth has gotten him a lot of trouble over privacy issues. In January, he declared the end to the age of privacy, and admitted “that if he were to create Facebook again today, user information would by default be public, not private.” Then, in April, a NY Times journalist outed Zuck’s true privacy colors by tweeting an off-the-record chat with a Facebook employee.

Later, in May, someone leaked some IMs wherein a 19 year old Zuck called his users “dumb f*cks” for trusting him with their data. Zuck tired back pedalling a month later, but still remains persona non grata in the realm of privacy concerns.

As much as Zuck is someone we love to hate when it comes to our privacy, we continue to Facebook, letting it reach its tentacles deeper and deeper into our data.

So it kind of begs the question: Do we kind of sense that Zuck is right about privacy after all?

Social Creatures, Social Users

Aristotle once pointed out that “man is by nature a political animal.” What he was getting at was that human beings are inherently social creatures. After all, the word politics comes from the Greek politikós, meaning “citizen” or “civilian,” and you need a social collective before there can be “citizens.”

Consider language. Not only does our innate faculty of language differentiate us from all other species, but it is testament to our inherently social nature.

And how could language evolve other than in a social context?

Indeed, language is at the core of our nature — our social nature. Without it, we would have no history, no culture, and no society. Chimpanzees, for instance, can communicate and even have culture, but they don’t have society because they don’t have a language with a universal grammar.

Privacy of the Species

So what does language have to do with privacy? Well, a lot of things.

For starters, the point of language is to communicate, and privacy hinders the communication of information. Secondly, we’re talking about privacy in the context of social media, and social networks are tools that facilitate natural human behavior.

But privacy entails a lack of communication. Had primitive man been private or practiced intellectual property, the species as a whole would’ve probably never evolved to a level of prosperity where concepts such as privacy and intellectual property could be enshrined by our societies.

Instead, social group communication has played a critical role and is responsible for our position in the food chain. Without it, primitive man would’ve been no match for the element or woolly mammoth. But through communication, we learned from one another, cultivated land, and regularly hunted such formidable beast — many of them to the point of extinction.

A Place & Time for Privacy

All this begs the question: So where did we come up with the idea of privacy? And why does it appeal to us on such a primal and personal level?

Well, the answer is simple. Privacy had its place in evolution. We’re just getting one place confused for another.

You see, privacy offers a competitive advantage when you’re vulnerable. It offers you protection from predators when your guard is down. This is why we instinctively seek privacy when we sleep, go to the bathroom, or mate.

But social situations are not one of those moments. In fact, privacy and socializing are very much at odds with one another.

And since social media is just an extension of socializing, we might have to accept that there there are inherent limits to our privacy online. We might even have to accept that it’s at odds with the core functionality of these social tools.

About CT Moore

A former Staff Editor here at, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over a decade experience leveraging search, social media, and content marketing to help brands meet their business goals online. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to start-ups, SMBs, enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed Inc.. CT is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

8 Responses to Is Mark Zuckerberg Right About Privacy?

  1. Talya says:

    This is an interesting article. While I don't necessarily like Zuckerberg's word choice concerning those who entrust Facebook with their personal data, he is right to some extent. People need to think twice about how much information they are putting out there for the world to see. It isn't any person's fault but their own if they are guilty of TMI …

  2. Like most good spin, Zuckerberg’s comments have a bit of truth embedded in them. But just a bit and ultimately he’s stance is one that is self-serving.

    “You see, privacy offers a competitive advantage when you’re vulnerable. It offers you protection from predators when your guard is down. This is why we instinctively seek privacy when we sleep, go to the bathroom, or mate.”

    Privacy indeed is a protection from predators. As such, it is a matter of survival/defense. But it isn’t restricted to just situations related to our basic physical needs like you mentioned. Privacy issues are generally more complex than just shutting the door when you go to the bathroom. Many of the complex issues surrounding privacy arise from privacy in a social context. Confessions to your clergy are sacrosanct with regards to privacy and the underlying reasons are based in the realm of social. Privacy is intimately tied to social (social being more than just chatting up your friends online).

    “But social situations are not one of those moments. In fact, privacy and socializing are very much at odds with one another.” This is where I disagree & it seems to be the foundational assumption (not just in this post) to justify many of the privacy concerns arising in the social media world. They may be counter balances to each other to some degree, but not at odds. Privacy comes into play in social situations all the time.

    And I certainly don’t go into a social situation expecting to give up my right to privacy just because it’s a social situation. Has anyone ever gone to a party with the expectation that everyone there could know anything about them….their health history, financial situation, work history, sexual relations, etc, etc? Of course not. We tend to hold those things we consider private more closely in those situations.

    “And since social media is just an extension of socializing, we might have to accept that there are inherent limits to our privacy online. We might even have to accept that it’s at odds with the core functionality of these social tools.”

    I certainly hope that it’s at odds with the core functionality of social tools, because if so it will ultimately kill or severely limit those tools since privacy is a very primal instinct.____Let’s not confuse the bit of truth in Zuckerberg’s comment of people being more willing to share information online with inherent limits to privacy online or that the two can’t (or shouldn’t) coexist. ____But the reality is I view Zuckerberg’s ramblings pretty much of a smoke screen. The real privacy issues surrounding FB have nothing to do with people posting TMI. After all, that’s their decision (although changes the rules halfway through the game and not properly informing the users is certainly not a good thing) and it’s not so different from the person who shares to much at a party. But that’s the person themselves sharing that information willing themselves.

    It’s a whole different ballgame (to keep it in the social context) than data mining someone’s private information for financial gain without their knowledge and proper consent. And that’s the REAL privacy issues surrounding FaceBook. It’s where the big bucks are for FB, certainly not those 2 little text ads/page view and 30% of Zynga’s revenue through FB. Zuckerberg becomes the predator in the privacy battle. The fact that people should be probably be more thoughtful before posting on social networks and using social tools is one of need for education. It does not automatically mean that people are giving up their rights to privacy…not by a long shot.

    • CT Moore says:

      You know, I was thinking about the privacy thing and how it relates to social situations. Specifically, in terms of we "don't go into a social situation expecting to give up [our] right to privacy just because it's a social situation".

      You're right about that. But I'm not sure that our expectations (or desires, for that matter) are sufficient grounds to establish an inalienable right to privacy.

      Yes, if I'm complete open about everything, I'll leave myself vulnerable to the exploitation and manipulation of others. But it could also be argues that such manipulation/exploitation is, itself, at odds with out social nature. After all, when people act selfishly to gain at the expense of others, they also detract from collective well being.

      So, in a sense, it's very problematic to have a Facebook, a private entity for profit, having access to all our private data.

      Where I think things get interesting is in how social media has exposed a significant flaw in our ideas of privacy rights. By having these "tools that facilitate natural human behavior," I think we're getting more insight into the dynamics of our collective psychology, and I think we're going to find that many of our ideas of individual rights and liberties are not as inalienable as we once believed. After all, we're social creatures, not solitary ones, so there must be limits to individual liberties.

      Of course, only time will tell. The title of this post, after all, is a question, not a statement, so it could really go any way.

  3. Tammy Nozawa says:

    I agree that the ideas of privacy and socializing are at odds, however I wonder why we can just figure out how to make the two co-exists? It feel like if you want privacy in the online realm, it means you basically have to be absent. No social networks, online games, forum posting or even just signing up for a newsletter. It really feels like it has to be all or nothing when people really just want a middle ground.

    • CT Moore says:

      I think why the online media pose such a challenge is because interactions are archived and public to strangers. I guess I see privacy as being less relevant when we exist in social circles that no more than 150 connections — what our brain is hard-wired for. But when we go online, we have access to many more people, and many more people have access to our interactions, even after they've ended, because they're archived somewhere in the cloud.

      Maybe it's just silly to expect to be able to archive interactions and then expect privacy.

  4. Jamie Benson says:

    Very interesting article. However, I think this privacy debate has run its course. By this time we should all just assume that by taking part in an online social network we forego our rights to absolute privacy. It's outright ridiculous to believe otherwise.

    • CT Moore says:

      I don't know if I'd go that far, Jamie. I think it's still important to discuss the issues. After all, as much as I agree with you about foregoing privacy when we go online, I think there's something to how uncomfortable so many people are with that. Who knows, maybe there's a technological solutions to the privacy problem that technology has created, but we'll never find out if we just forget about it.

  5. Wes says:

    I think the idea of privacy vs. socializing really depends on specific situations. For example, I don't care who sees a tweet I broadcast to the whole world via Twitter, but I care if a private email thread is spied on. Private email threads are nothing new. If we're talking about "likes" and such, for the most part is this data is only useful in aggregate? I think it would be interesting to know exactly how Facebook could or is using personal data, and make an analysis based on that.