Mark Zuckerberg has taken the unprecedented step of personally defending Facebook’s business model in print.
Rather than write a screed on his own Facebook page, Zuckerberg chose to put in in the form of a 1,000-word article for the Wall Street Journal.
Titled “The Facts About Facebook,” Zuckerberg’s column focused on his company’s advertising strategy and handling of user data. “I want to explain the principles of how we operate,” it begins, before explaining that his free service needs ads to support it.
The op-ed comes in the wake of months of criticism over Facebook data privacy scandals, such as the Cambridge Analytica controversy. It also comes ahead of federal data privacy legislation, which legal experts expect will pass in 2019.
While admitting the company’s data dealings can “feel opaque” and cause distrust, Zuckerberg insisted: “We don’t sell people’s data, even though it’s often reported that we do.”
He added: “selling people’s information to advertisers would be counter to our business interests, because it would reduce the unique value of our service to advertisers. We have a strong incentive to protect people’s information from being accessed by anyone else.”
Given the aim to be transparent, it’s ironic that he wasn’t clear on several fronts. First off: why choose the Wall Street Journal? The paper’s notoriously hard-right editorial pages are not exactly a choice of venue designed to win over critics on the left.
Facebook spokesperson Elisabeth Diana told Business Insider there was “no real rationale” behind the choice, and that the Journal “is read in several countries.” With 119 million followers on his public page, however, there’s a good chance a post from Zuckerberg would also be read in several countries.
Zuckerberg was right about one thing: most people aren’t comfortable with Facebook’s ad targeting practices. But he maintained that users are in control: “You can find out why you’re seeing an ad and change your preferences to get ads you’re interested in. And you can use our transparency tools to see every different ad an advertiser is showing to anyone else.”
He also said that when Facebook asked people for permission to use their information for ads in compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, “the vast majority agreed because they prefer more relevant ads.” But in May 2018, Facebook was reported to be quietly looking into ways to limit the number of users protected by Europe’s tough new data law.
The Facebook founder vaguely addressed the issue of deliberate misinformation, something the company has been tackling for more than two years. Zuckerberg said the platform does not leave “harmful or divisive” content up for engagement, and that although Facebook’s fake news detection practices are “not perfect,” they’re still working on it.
“People consistently tell us they don’t want to see this content. Advertisers don’t want their brands anywhere near it,” he wrote.
With the Federal Trade Commission reportedly considering a “record-setting” fine for Facebook after an investigation into its privacy practices, transparency now seems to be a priority for Zuckerberg. But he could be a little more transparent about his defense strategy itself.