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Facebook has a dual identity, as both a for-profit business and a medium for our personal lives, and those two identities don't always sit comfortably side by side. Looked at one way, when a friend likes a product, it's just more sharing, more data changing hands. Looked at another way, it's your personal relationships being monetized by a third party. People have to decide for themselves which way is their way. If "liking" an ad the same way you "like" a news article or a photo of your spouse seems creepy to you it's more or less the definition of what Marx called commodity fetishism you don't have to do it. Like everything on Facebook like Facebook itself it's voluntary. But plenty of people are willing, even eager, to make their social lives part of an advertising pageant staged by a major corporation. When Nike put up an ad last year during the World Cup, 6 million people clicked on it.
Facebook is a privately held company and doesn't release financial statements, but Sandberg sounds confident. "I think it's totally fair to say we are a very good business," she says. "Not 'we will be,' but 'we are.' " Zuckerberg confirms that Facebook is profitable, and not just technically: it's cash flowpositive. Analysts and journalists, who know less but can say more, estimate Facebook's 2010 revenue at anywhere from $1.1 billion to $2 billion.
Facebook is the way it is because of who Zuckerberg is. The color scheme is blue and white because Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind: there are a lot of colors he can't see, but blue he can see. Likewise, Zuckerberg has a metaphoric vision, a big-picture vision, for Facebook. And as with his literal vision, there are a few things he has trouble seeing. Take, for example, privacy.
There's a school of thought that goes something like, Mark Zuckerberg is a scheming profiteer who uses his control of Facebook to force people to share more and more of their personal lives publicly, sucking up their innermost thoughts like some kind of privacy vampire so he can feed their data to advertisers and increase traffic to his network, thereby adding to his massive personal fortune.
This is a red herring. Cynicism and greed are not character traits that appear in Zuckerberg's feature set. Facebook doesn't sell your data to advertisers. (It uses the aggregated statistics of its millions of users to more effectively target the ads it serves, but that's a long way from the same thing.) And he doesn't force anybody to share anything. The idea would genuinely, honestly horrify him.
But he does have a blind spot when it comes to personal privacy, which is why that issue keeps coming up. It came up in November 2007 when Facebook launched Beacon, an advertising system that told your friends about your buying habits. You could turn off the alerts, but it was tricky, and as a result, people lost control of their information. Girlfriends found out about surprise engagement rings. Family members found out about Christmas presents. You didn't have to be a computer genius to see that coming; in fact you pretty much had to be one to not see it coming. Users hated Beacon. A month after it launched, Zuckerberg apologized, and he eventually scrapped it.
Incredibly, the same thing happened all over again in 2009, when Facebook rolled out a complicated new set of privacy controls. Again, users saw their information going places they didn't want it to go. Again they revolted. Zuckerberg has a talent for understanding how people work, but one urge, the urge to conceal, seems to be foreign to him. Sometimes Facebook makes it harder than it should be. It is biased in favor of sharing. That is, after all, what Facebook is for. "The thing that I really care about is making the world more open and connected," Zuckerberg says. "What that stands for is something that I have believed in for a really long time." Pressed to define it, Zuckerberg gamely expands. "Open means having access to more information, right? More transparency, being able to share things and have a voice in the world. And connected is helping people stay in touch and maintain empathy for each other, and bandwidth."
Empathy and bandwidth you could inscribe the words on Zuckerberg's coat of arms. And they are without a doubt both good things. But are they good for everybody all the time? Sometimes Zuckerberg can sound like a wheedling spokesman for the secret police of some future totalitarian state. Why wouldn't you want to share? Why wouldn't you want to be open unless you've got something to hide? "Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity," Zuckerberg said in a 2009 interview with David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect. This is a popular attitude among the Silicon Valley elite, summed up by a remark Google CEO Eric Schmidt made last year on CNBC: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
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