Yesterday, Harvard Square; tomorrow…the World?

The Zuckerberg Files archives “all public utterances” of Facebook’s boss


Don’t like an organization deciding which aspects of your life it will pass on to whoever may like to make use of the information?

So, you’re one of those old-school-privacy troglodytes, are you? One of those Luddites who object to having any corporation or person pass on to marketers everything they say and do online?

One of those anti-friendly Facebook bashers?

Or, perhaps you’re the company’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Although he claims that he now leaves his own Facebook page wide open for anyone to browse, he might not appreciate a new online video, audio, and print archive, The Zuckerberg Files.

The digital, searchable site brings together and makes available “all public utterances” of Facebook’s boss. Available on the archive’s website are 100 full-text transcripts as well as bibliographic data of the holdings. Those include media interviews, public appearances, product presentations, blog posts, letters to shareholders, and quotes in other sources — Zuckerberg, kit and caboodle.

Mark Zuckerberg

The thought that drove the project’s director, Michael Zimmer, was that “by gaining a better understanding of how Facebook’s founder and CEO conceives of his own company’s role in the policy and ethical debates surrounding social networking, we will be be

tter suited to critically engage in a dialogue on privacy and Facebook.”

That can “inform design and policy recommendations, and increase user awareness and literacy,” says Zimmer, who directs the Center for Information Policy Research at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

The Zuckerberg Files archive, he contends, “represents an important step towards [a] broader understanding, approached through the lens of Mark Zuckerberg’s own language.”

And of course, he adds, the digital repository fulfills the goals of any archive: to provide ease of access to materials and to guard against loss – for example, in case source sites shut down.

Zimmer’s is a scholarly approach to addressing a question of the day: How did the Facebook social-network juggernaut come to set the measure not only for how readily we human beings will boast about ourselves, or lie, but also how much privacy we will readily surrender – what we do, buy, and think about issues grand and inane.

If we don’t surrender, Zimmer suggests, we may care to take stock of, and seek a say in byte-by-byte tearing up of older privacy expectations as online social networking services like Facebook increase in importance and become largely unavoidable features of social life.

In Zimmer’s view, Facebook and its founder hold enormous power when it comes to setting the directions the service takes in its quest for income from advertising and for making user data and statistics available to third parties.

Since The Zuckerberg Files launched online in October 2013, Zimmer has emphasized that the site is seriously intended to provide a means to gauge the CEO’s attitudes towards – or disdain for – modern-day privacy. “He seems to maintain a broad philosophy that if we’re willing to share, we’ll be come a better society,” Zimmer told VatorNews. “That’s what I want to understand better by capturing and analyzing his rhetoric. What is Zuckerberg’s philosophy of information, and has it changed or evolved over time.”

He says Facebook’s history tells much about its directors’ intentions and thinking about privacy, so it is significant that Zuckerberg, who from the outset maintained close control over everything Facebook, has continued to do so since the company became a publicly traded company on 18 May 2012.

Mark Zuckerberg Interview On CNBC From 2004


We didn’t get it right this time

Not only Zimmer but many other Facebook observers are unimpressed by the company’s handling of privacy issues. In a 2 June 2011 op-ed for The Huffington Post, he and a colleague, Chris Hoofnagle, charged that Facebook and some other “information-intensive” companies have devised “a Machiavellian public relations strategy” for elbowing in on their subscribers’ privacy: “Without warning, these companies introduce ‘features’ that invariably result in more information being shared with advertisers, wait for a negative reaction, and then announce minimal changes without affecting the new feature.

“They explain away the fuss with public relations spin: ‘we are listening to our users,’ ‘we didn’t get it right this time,’ ‘we look forward to your feedback,’ etc. This strategy works, time and time again.”

Zimmer says that the flip side of pattern of that ruse is to claim that changes in the privacy status of subscribers’ information are always made in the interests of openness, transparency, and subscribers’ ability to communicate more readily or fully with one another.

Signs that Facebook executives hold persistent, troubling views about privacy are easy to detect, Zimmer says. The sudden new “features,” for example, consistently switch the status of some kinds of information from possibly-private to assumed-to-be-public.

Zimmer asks: What kind of conception of privacy does that signal? A poor one, he contends: Zuckerberg and co. seem not to be able to conceive of privacy as something that individuals have an interest in controlling. Controlling by, for example, deciding who should and should not be able to see certain kinds of personal information.

Of course, subscribers are unlikely to be able to follow and recognize the significance of all the “beneficial” innovations the site’s supervisors are introducing. But the archives, says Zimmer, should help researchers, journalists, and other do that work. Within the material are indications of what Zuckerberg thinks about users/customers/participants, advertising, money, and much else.

Significantly, says Zimmer, Zuckerberg’s official pronouncements speak of subscribers’ “control” over and “access” to each others’ information and postings; but in their plainly disingenuous spin, the executives’ seem virtually unable to utter the word, “privacy.” As company executives work their gambits, the wording they deploy seems to draw from some sort of “memo going around saying ‘don’t say privacy.’”

Social-networking observers find this part of Zimmer’s argument compelling. In an article published in October 2013 on a Forbes magazine website — one with the wonderful title, “The Very First Time Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Publicly Uttered The Word ‘Privacy’ — Kashmir Hill says that journalists have much to explore in Zimmer’s Zuckerberg material: “An interesting pattern sprung up in the form of a ‘privacy’ bell curve,” she says. “[Zuckerberg] said it very little in the early years, then a lot, and then not very often.”

The exceptions are suggestive, Hill adds: “He was saying ‘privacy’ a lot in 2010, perhaps because that was following the company’s insane December 2009 privacy setting overhaul that pushed lots of users’ previously private information into the public eye.”

In 2010 at the Computer History Museum, Zuckerberg on "The Facebook Effect"


Making free with access

But then, when Facebook went public in 2012, “Zuckerberg’s letter to investors unsurprisingly left the word ‘privacy’ unspoken.”

Recent developments at Facebook would seem to support Zimmer’s claims, and justify his fears. In October 2013 the company finished a process of retracting users’ ability to designate “Who can look up your Timeline by name?” A month earlier, it had not helped its privacy reputation by the way it settled a $20-million class-action lawsuit filed against the company for creating advertising that used subscribers’ Facebook photos.

The site allows free access to its bibliography and metadata, but proceeding further into the site – for example, to download archived video files or transcripts of speeches – requires users to submit a brief description of what they need the material for; it must be a research project or other purpose that doesn’t raise any fair-use or copyright hackles. (The host of the Zuckerberg Files archive, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee Digital Commons, subscribes to the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication.”)

But the request requirement is something of a knowing wink, because metadata for each archived file provides a link to a source site where the same material is freely available.

If you’d like to take a trip way back to 2004, to the heady dawn of Facebook, you can find in the Zuckerberg Files a CNBC interview in which the young starter-upper pronounced: “Right now we’re at 100,000 people, so who knows where we’re going next?”

At that point, the site – then called The Facebook – had been intended as a social-networking site for Harvard University students, and then all college students.

Ah, those innocent days. Yesterday, Harvard Yard, tomorrow…the world?

Yes, the world. In a sense. Zuckerberg, Zimmer told VatorNews, “seems to be giving more talks globally, and also speaking on issues like immigration reform and providing global Internet access.”

If you cling to the hope that it’d be silly to believe any social-network boss could aspire to that kind of national and even global influence, consider that in September 2012, Zuckerberg heralded some sort of new age when he announced that the service, which began in 2004, had one billion regular users.

That, on a planet of seven billion, at least some of whom presumably have nothing particularly interesting to reveal.

Much suggests that in this era when living out of all public view is not a favored option, it may be a good idea to keep up with The Zuckerberg Files. The archive holds up a mirror to the ultimate keeper of millions upon millions of people’s private or semi-private thoughts, activities, opinions, moods of the moment, sentiments about dogs and cats…

On anonscience, 2013, Zuckerberg tells mere mortals "What Most Schools Don't Teach"

— Peter Monaghan

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