Edward Snowden Brings Facebook’s 2009 Privacy Change, Zuckerberg’s 2010 TechCrunch Statements, To Light

Zennie Abraham / Zennie62
Zennie Abraham / Zennie62

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA documents that include information on the PRISM program have shed new light on Facebook’s then-new late 2009 privacy policy, and statements early in 2010 where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said to TechCrunch Founder and then-CEO Michael Arrington that “the age of privacy is over,” and made a set of statements that lasted 60 seconds, but sent shivers through the spines of privacy activists at the time.

To put all of what you’re about to consume in the proper context, in December of 2009, Facebook rolled out a major privacy update to its platform. The intent was to correct Facebook’s then-notoriously confusing privacy controls. But the actual result was observed to be such that Facebook users would wind up selecting an open, public system of their own free will.

On Wednesday, December 9th, TechCrunch’s Jascon Kincaid called it Facebook’s “Privacy Fiasco,” writing “Facebook is giving up its reputation as a ‘private’ social network — where the default is to restrict access to everything that is shared — in favor of something that can challenge Twitter head on. And, as I wrote last July, it may well be a disaster in the making.

Facebook is spinning the news as a win for users. They’re supposedly getting more control than ever over what they’re sharing, and it’s easier than ever to control it. But that’s not the real story. Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb has nailed it: this is Facebook’s move to push people to share with the public.

And Mr. Kirkpatrick wrote:

Facebook announced this morning that its 350 million users will be prompted to make their status messages and shared content publicly visible to the world at large and search engines. It’s a move we expected but the language used in the announcement is near Orwellian. The company says the move is all about helping users protect their privacy and connect with other people, but the new default option is to change from “old settings” to becoming visible to “everyone.”…This is not what Facebook users signed up for. It’s not about privacy at all, it’s about increasing traffic and the visibility of activity on the site.

And the changes Facebook installed in late 2009 were seen as a kind of protecting of themselves from accusations that the company itself was giving up privacy for the public display of information. By, in effect, handing over options to the public with a default that was more open, Facebook’s legal claim could be “it’s not our fault.”

Where all this now ties in with Snowden and PRISM is that, according to his statements and the PRISM document pages that have been released thus far, PRISM’s Facebook data collection started June 1st of 2009, then the privacy update, which provides a more open framework for Facebook to legally hide behind, was developed over that time, and rolled out in December of 2009.

Then, at The Crunchies in 2010, and with Michael Arrington determined to ask about Zuckerberg’s privacy stance, Mark let loose with his comments that, for all practical purposes, privacy, as we knew it, was over.

Mark said it in my video, as I attended the 2010 Crunchies as press, and had the perfect seat to record what you are about to see and hear, with his privacy talk starting at just after the 2:50 mark:

This is the full text of his privacy comments in the video:

“When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was ‘why would I want to put any information on the Internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?’

“And then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

“We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.

“A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built, doing a privacy change – 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.”

That set the policy stage for how Facebook would engage with the U.S. Government in trying to strike a balance between intelligence needs and the concerns of privacy advocates.

Now, the New York Times‘ Claire Cain Miller writes, on June 7th, that her sources assert that Facebook, with Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Apple, AOL and Paltalk, came up with a way to give a kind of “locked mailbox” but not direct server access, to the U.S. Government. In a way, it allows the firms to deny giving NSA or any organization server access from a public perspective, all while serving the private intelligence needs of America.

For the record, and to assert this, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg openly denies these claims.

Trouble is, Edward Snowden’s out there challenging him, and Mark’s own words at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010 appear to be the window into the real story.

Stay tuned.

About the Author

Zennie Abraham
Zennie Abraham | Zennie Abraham or "Zennie62" is the founder of Zennie62Media which consists of zennie62blog.com and a multimedia blog news aggregator and video network, and 78-blog network, with social media and content development services and consulting. Zennie is a pioneer video blogger, YouTube Partner, social media practitioner, game developer, and pundit. Note: news aggregator content does not reflect the personal views of Mr. Abraham.

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