Farhad Manjoo interviewed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about innovation recently and ended up touching on privacy and anonymity on the internet. As is usual for me when I see Zuckerberg comments on these topics (like these), I got an uneasy feeling.
Q. We’ve seen a number of apps that are playing with anonymity, and apps like Snapchat that are ephemeral. Are those modes interesting to you? Do you expect Facebook will do things with anonymity?
A. I don’t know. I do think more private communication is a bigger space than people realize. You were asking if I was surprised that WhatsApp and Messenger’s use cases were so different. They fit into this framework of private communication. That’s what people like to do, and that’s why there are so many different services. I think there is going to be even more stuff like that.
Anonymity is different. I’m not going to say it can’t work, because I think that is too extreme. But I tend to think some of these interactions are better rooted in some sense of building relationships. There are different forms of identity you can use to form a relationship. You can use your real identity, or you can use phone numbers for something like WhatsApp, and pseudonyms for something like Instagram. But in any of those you’re not just sharing and consuming content, you are also building relationships with people and building an understanding of people. That’s core to how we think about the world. So anonymity is not the first thing that we’ll go do.
Something about the way Zuckerberg talks about privacy and anonymity strikes me as not how average people talk and think about it. I read his definition of anonymity as extremely narrow—you can only be anonymous if you’re not building a relationship of any sort? Whereas I think most people might define it is as simply not using your real name.
Zuckerberg continues to demonstrate that he doesn’t quite get it when it comes to privacy — yet we entrust him and a company staffed with people who “think about the world” that way with some of our most personal information.