- Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said a lot about privacy this year.
- He's had to, as the company faced data breaches, privacy scandals and the launch of a new in-home video calling device.
- Though the frequency of the CEO's statements has picked up in recent months, Zuckerberg's been talking about privacy for years.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said a lot about privacy this year — he's had to, as the company faced new scrutiny over how it collects and shares information about its users.
This is nothing new. Zuckerberg has been quelling user concerns ever since he built the predecessor to Facebook, called Facemash, at Harvard back in 2003. When users of the service complained that their pictures were being used without permission, Zuckerberg took the site down and apologized. That wouldn't be the last time Zuckerberg apologized for a perceived breach of privacy.
Here's a comprehensive look back at what Zuckerberg has said about privacy and controlling data, based on CNBC research and Michael Zimmer's "Zuckerberg files," and updated with statements from 2018.
Harvard's student newspaper interviewed Zuckerberg in 2003 about his pre-Facebook project, facemash.com, which asked students to rate the attractiveness of their classmates. Pictures were scraped from housing websites and uploaded.
The website quickly caused outrage and was permanently taken down. A then-19-year-old Zuckerberg said:
"Issues about violating people's privacy don't seem to be surmountable. The primary concern is hurting people's feelings. I'm not willing to risk insulting anyone."
In an apology letter, he wrote, "I hope you understand, this is not how I meant for things to go, and I apologize for any harm done as a result of my neglect to consider how quickly the site would spread and its consequences thereafter...I definitely see how my intentions could be seen in the wrong light."
Zuckerberg built the first version of Facebook from the ashes of Facemash. In 2004, with just hundreds signed on, Zuckerberg made sure to clarify that the extensive search capabilities were countered by privacy options for members who didn't want everyone to be able to look up their information.
"You can limit who can see your information, if you only want current students to see your information, or people in your year, in your house, in your classes. You can limit a search so that only a friend or a friend of a friend can look you up. People have very good control over who can see their information."
Early Facebook investor Jim Breyer interviewed Mark Zuckerberg in 2005, during which Zuckerberg responded to an audience question about his approach to the ethical and legal implications of monetizing Facebook.
"We're not forcing anyone to publicize any information about themselves. We give people pretty good control over their privacy. I mean you can make it so that no one can see anything, or no one can see your profile unless they're your friend. And I think that we encourage people to use that stuff. We point people to it."
You can watch the full presentation here. Zuckerberg's comments on ethics start around 41:20:
Zuckerberg delivered a guest lecture moderated Professor Michael D. Smith at Harvard in 2005, where he talked about Facebook's expansion from Harvard to other schools. The idea of privacy and data usage came up:
"We have a lot of stuff that we put in place to make sure that people don't aggregate information off of Facebook. Obviously, you can't see profiles of people at other schools. But also, if you try to view a lot of profiles, it picks up that you're just viewing an abnormal number of profiles .... We're obviously really sensitive to people's privacy."
You can watch the full video here:
Business Insider reported an exchange between Zuckerberg and a friend that occurred shortly after Zuckerberg launched The Facebook in his dorm room:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don't know why.
Zuck: They "trust me"
Zuck: Dumb f--ks.
The New Yorker later reported on the same message, and said Zuckerberg later told investor Jim Breyer that he regretted sending it and similar ones.
In 2007, Facebook faced its first big privacy flap after it had expanded beyond universities to the general population. The company introduced Beacon, which allowed third-party sites to publish user purchases unless users opted out. That meant that some users unwittingly broadcast to their friends information like their movie purchases from Blockbuster or plane ticket purchases from Travelocity.
Zuckerberg addressed it in a Facebook blog post that has since been archived:
"We've made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we've made even more with how we've handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it...We were excited about Beacon because we believe a lot of information people want to share isn't on Facebook, and if we found the right balance, Beacon would give people an easy and controlled way to share more of that information with their friends. But we missed the right balance.""
Zuckerberg spoke to Wired in 2009 about the creation of public profiles:
"Just a couple of weeks ago we announced this open privacy setting where prior to that it was impossible for someone to take their profile and say that they wanted it to be open. Now they can do that. They can say it's open to everyone. And what I would just expect is that as time goes on, we're just going to keep on moving more and more in that direction."
Zuckerberg responded to a question about "pushing the envelope" on privacy during an award speech in 2010:
"It's interesting looking back, right? When we got started — just a night in my dorm room at Harvard — the question a lot of people asked is, 'Why would I want any information on the internet at all? Like, why would I want to have a website?' And then, in the last five or six years, blogging has taken off in a huge way, and all these different services that have people sharing more information. And people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information — and different kinds — but more openly with more people. And that social norm is just something that's evolved over time."
Zuckerberg told Time in 2010:
"The way that people think about privacy is changing a bit ... What people want isn't complete privacy. It isn't that they want secrecy. It's that they want control over what they share and what they don't."
Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2010, in which he outlined Facebook's principles for privacy:
"We have also heard that some people don't understand how their personal information is used and worry that it is shared in ways they don't want. I'd like to clear that up now. Many people choose to make some of their information visible to everyone so people they know can find them on Facebook. We already offer controls to limit the visibility of that information and we intend to make them even stronger.
Here are the principles under which Facebook operates:
— You have control over how your information is shared.
— We do not share your personal information with people or services you don't want.
— We do not give advertisers access to your personal information.
— We do not and never will sell any of your information to anyone.
— We will always keep Facebook a free service for everyone."
Zuckerberg appeared on NPR in 2010 saying:
"There's this false rumor that's been going around which says that we're sharing private information with applications and it's just not true. The way it works, is ... if you choose to share some information with everyone on the site, that means that any person can go look up that information and any application can go look up that information as well. ... But applications have to ask for permission for anything that you've set to be private."
He discussed the "serendipitous connections" that Facebook enables in on stage in 2010:
"Privacy is very important to us. I think there are some misperceptions. People use Facebook to share and to stay connected. You don't start off on Facebook being connected to your friends, you've got to be able to find them. So having some information available broadly is good for that. Now, there have been misperceptions that we're trying to make all information open, but that's false. We encourage people to keep their most private information private. But some of the most basic information, we suggest that people leave public."
Zuckerberg told The New Yorker in 2010:
"If I could choose to share my mobile-phone number only with everyone on Facebook, I wouldn't do it. But because I can do it with only my friends I do it.
"A lot of people who are worried about privacy and those kinds of issues will take any minor misstep that we make and turn it into as big a deal as possible," he said. "We realize that people will probably criticize us for this for a long time, but we just believe that this is the right thing to do."
Zuckerberg shared a Facebook note to his personal page in 2011 after the FTC signed a consent decree governing Facebook's use of personal data. He said:
"I founded Facebook on the idea that people want to share and connect with people in their lives, but to do this everyone needs complete control over who they share with at all times....This idea has been the core of Facebook since day one. When I built the first version of Facebook, almost nobody I knew wanted a public page on the internet. That seemed scary. But as long as they could make their page private, they felt safe sharing with their friends online. Control was key.
On the decree and the hiring of chief privacy officers, Zuckerberg said:
"[T]his means we're making a clear and formal long-term commitment to do the things we've always tried to do and planned to keep doing -- giving you tools to control who can see your information and then making sure only those people you intend can see it .... As a matter of fact, privacy is so deeply embedded in all of the development we do that every day tens of thousands of servers worth of computational resources are consumed checking to make sure that on any webpage we serve, that you have access to see each of the sometimes hundreds or even thousands of individual pieces of information that come together to form a Facebook page."
When Facebook went public in 2012, the company wrote to shareholders:
"[W]e hope to rewire the way people spread and consume information. We think the world's information infrastructure should resemble the social graph — a network built from the bottom up or peer-to-peer, rather than the monolithic, top-down structure that has existed to date. We also believe that giving people control over what they share is a fundamental principle of this rewiring."
Earnings conference call (July 2014)
Zuckerberg spoke about privacy on the company's earnings call in July 2014:
"I think something that's misunderstood about Facebook. One of the things that we focused on the most is creating private spaces for people to share things and have interactions that they couldn't have had elsewhere. So, if you go back to the very beginning of Facebook, rewind 10 years, I mean there were blogs and things where you could be completely public and there were e-mails, right? So, you could circulate something completely privately. But there was no space where you could share with just your friends, right? I mean it wasn't a completely private experience, but it's not completely public and it's 100 or 150 of the people that you care about.
"And creating that space which was a space that had the kind of privacy that no one had ever seen before was what enabled and continues to enable the kind of interactions and the content that people feel comfortable sharing in this network that don't exist in other places in the world."
Zuckerberg posted a lengthy statement to his Facebook page in March following the misuse of personal data by research firm Cambridge Analytica.
He said, in part, "We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you."
Congressional testimony (April 2018)
During two days of testimony before congressional committees, Zuckerberg answered questions about Cambridge Analytica and user privacy. Zuckerberg told Congress, among other things:
"My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together. Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that, as long as I am running Facebook."
European Parliament address (May 2018)
In May Zuckerberg appeared before the European Parliament to address wide-ranging concerns around election security, content moderation and the body's stricter regulations around user data, encompassed under GDPR. Zuckerberg told the committee Facebook expected to be "fully compliant" with GDPR when it took effect three days from his appearance, and said the company was paying close attention to the roll-out of the opt-in user flows for granting access to data.
"One of the the things that the law requires here in Europe is that someone has to go through these extensive flows before they can use the service, starting on May 25th. And one of the pieces of feedback that we got from people in the community was that they didn't want to get road-blocked before being able to go see their friends' content. if you're coming to Facebook because you want to share something, the last thing that we want is for someone to go through the flows quicker than they need to and just, you know, click okay or no on a bunch of stuff because they just want to blow through that in order to get to what they were trying to do."
Facebook launched an in-home video calling device in October, amid widespread privacy concerns. The company attempted to ease concerns with a physical camera shutter, and Zuckerberg said:
"We don't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your calls in any way. Your calls are always completely private."
'People feel more comfortable being themselves when they know ... their content won't stick around forever.'
After the company's third-quarter results, Zuckerberg reflected on lessons from the quarter, saying in part:
"Public sharing will always be very important, but people increasingly want to share privately too -- and that includes both to smaller audiences with messaging, and ephemerally with stories. People feel more comfortable being themselves when they know their content will only be seen by a smaller group and when their content won't stick around forever."
After a British lawmaker released a slew of internal Facebook emails detailing special partnerships between the company and advertisers, Zuckerberg revisited the Cambridge Analytica scandal and pushed some responsibility onto "sketchy apps." He said:
"We launched the Facebook Platform in 2007 with the idea that more apps should be social. For example, your calendar should show your friends' birthdays and your address book should have your friends' photos. Many new companies and great experiences were built on this platform, but at the same time, some developers built shady apps that abused people's data. In 2014, to prevent abusive apps, we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access."
Watch: Mark Zuckerberg's 2004 interview on CNBC