All told its been an extraordinary week for trans Pacific business relations. Google served notice on China that it would do what ever it takes to protect the privacy of the data within gmail accounts of human rights activists. Meanwhile back in America Mark Zuckerberg gave an extraordinary interview where he posits his views on the declining utility of personal privacy. And since we apparently value our privacy less andl less and since the population of Facebook becomes more and more.....well, its a mere formality: lets just cut out the noise and lets have Mark decide what the social norms are and set privacy settings in Facebook accordingly.
A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built. Doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.
But here I think Facebook is walking into the ethical trap of determinism. Facebook judge we don't value our privacy so they are taking the safety guards away. Are we really lobotomized lemmings without any regard for the value & dignity of our own privacy? Or as Mike Arrington put it in his subtly titled post 'Ok you Luddites, Time to Chill out on Facebook over Privacy':
The point is, we don’t really care about privacy anymore. And Facebook is just giving us exactly what we want.
Then again last July TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid also had this to say in his slightly more soberly titled post 'The Looming Facebook Privacy Fiasco':
Facebook clearly wants its users to become more comfortable sharing their content across the web, because that’s what needs to happen if the site is going to take Twitter head-on with real-time search capabilities. Unfortunately that’s far easier said than done for the social network, which has for years trumpeted its granular privacy settings as one of its greatest assets. Now, those settings are turning into problematic obstacles.
What's really interesting to me is the juxtapositon of Google and Facebook this week on the issue of privacy rights. That China and the West have cultural differences that can lead to misunderstandings & misalignment of values is to state the well trodden obvious.
But imagine for a second Facebook as a Chinese originating service with Zuckerberg its native Chinese CEO entrepreneur. How then would we view the cavalier way Zuckerberg presumes to determine collective societal norms on our behalf before going on to reset privacy controls for 350 million people world wide accordingly? I think a great deal many more people would have as much to say about that as has been said about Google's woes this week.