Archive for the ‘privacy’ Category

Facebook and Dangerous Ideas

Of all the ideas that a CEO can have, is the most dangerous one the idea that his main objective should be to generate profits for shareholders?

How about a belief in the idea that your privacy — the privacy of millions of customers, whose information he holds in the palm of his hand — just doesn’t matter? That’s roughly what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to believe.

Venture Beat’s Kim-Mai Cutler looked around and found a bunch of evidence about just what Zuckerberg believes, including this gem:

“You have one identity,” he emphasized three times in a single interview with David Kirkpatrick in his book, “The Facebook Effect.” “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

What Zuckerberg is really talking about when he talks about people having “two identities” is privacy. He means revealing more or different information to some people than you do to others. And far from betraying a deep character flaw (“lack of integrity”), giving differential access to information about ourselves is widely regarded as an important part of how we develop and maintain intimate relationships. Your friends (including Facebook “friends”) are more or less just people who have access to information about you that most people don’t have. What it means to be intimate with someone (sexually or otherwise) is to give them access that you don’t give to everyone. It’s what makes them special. For someone like Zuckerman not to understand this is truly scary, given how much information he controls.

And as usual, my point here is more about the general question than about the particular instance. The point of this blog entry isn’t to add one more voice to the chorus of criticisms levelled against Facebook recently. I’m just using Facebook as an example, to illustrate the point. Many people believe that the belief in the importance of profits is the big, dangerous idea we need to worry about. But it’s not. There is nothing wrong with zealously pursuing profits, so long as you don’t do so through anti-social means.

So here’s a CEO with a truly scary belief, but it’s not the belief in the importance of profits.

No, the real danger doesn’t lie in a commitment to making profits; the danger lies in what you’re willing to do to make those profits.

Google on Google in China

Here’s an amazing story about a company (well, a founder & senior executive) ruminating — publicly — about the ethics of a recent corporate decision. In particular, it’s Google co-founder Sergey Brin, talking about Google’s activities in China:

From the Detroit Free Press: Brin Says Google Compromised Principles (by By Ted Bridis, writing for the Associated Press)

We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference,” Brin said.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path,” Brin said. “It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.”

Most of you already know about Google’s controversial move to offer version of its search engine in China that meets the censorship requirements of the Chinese government. (If not, see the blog entries listed below.) What amazes (and impresses) me most about the latest installment in this story is the casual transparency of (some aspects of) Google’s decision-making. Here’s the co-founder and co-president of one of the most powerful companies in the world chatting with reporters about ethics. Like, not reading a prepared statement, but thinking it through, out loud, and admitting that he’s not sure the company is on-track. Some would read this as a sign of weakness. I take it as the opposite. Who wouldn’t be uncertain about a path as clearly fraught with ethical peril as Google’s current path in China? Say what you will about the substance of Google’s strategy, you have to admire a company with the moral courage to be open about its own doubts.

Earlier Business Ethics Blog entries on this topic:

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