Fear of sharing (or Why Zuckerberg is right about privacy)

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In the eyes of the mainstream new media Mark Zuckerberg can’t seem to do anything right these days.

What I love about Mark is that he doesn’t care what the crowd thinks. And I believe facebook is better because of that.

Rather than succumbing to mob rule, facebook takes its own direction. The direction that Mark thinks is right. And when it comes to privacy I think he hit the nail on the head when he wrote recently on the Washington Post’s web site,

If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world. These are still our core principles today.

That’s the core of his argument. The more we share, the better off the world is. And I for one agree.

We’ve been taught to be afraid of lots of things we don’t really need to be afraid of. It’s one of the ways that society controls us.

I believe there are three really obvious areas that we as a society stand to benefit if we conquer our fears and start sharing information we’ve been conditioned to think of as private. Health. Money. Location.

Imagine if everyone’s health history was anonymized and available in a database. If you were diagnosed with a certain type of cancer you’d be able to go online and look at accurate data on what treatment plans were available and what the actual outcomes were. But we’re so busy worrying about our personal right to privacy that we’re missing out on this amazing opportunity.

Look at the information that services like are able to give us because we share our financial data. If I know that my utility bills are more than the average in my part of town, I can take steps to save energy. In order to know that, we have to be willing to share our data. Something we’re not going to do as long as we’re afraid to enter our accounting information into a website. The truth is it’s much higher risk to hand your credit card to a waiter (who then disappears for five minutes into another room) than it is to put your bank username and password into mint.

And then there’s location. Thanks to ridiculous sites like, much of the population believes its unsafe to share your location on social networks. The truth is if someone wants to rob your house it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not home from 9-5, regardless of whether or not you checked in on foursquare. The first time you’re able to connect with a friend in a distant city or try a new restaurant because a friend left you a note in foursquare it’ll begin to make sense.

So, I think Mark’s right. The more we share, the more connected we are. And the more connected we are, the better place the world is. Let’s overcome our fears and share our way to a better world.

What do you think?

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18 thoughts on “Fear of sharing (or Why Zuckerberg is right about privacy)

  1. In 2001, right before 9/11, I wrote and published a book called Invasion of Privacy: How to Protect Yourself in the Digital Age. It’s still available for sale today. The book was faced in exactly the kind of fear you describe.
    Over the last nine years, I have completely reversed my position. I think there is much less to fear than the media would have us believe. Once you understand that the media feeds on fear, and uses it to gain eyeballs, so they can sell advertising, you can opt out of their system.
    Great post. You are spot-on.

  2. @michael, “Once you understand that the media feeds on fear, and uses it to gain eyeballs, so they can sell advertising, you can opt out of their system.”
    That’s brilliant! The perfect punchline to this post.

  3. As a community organizer, and leader, this is the message I’ve also preached:
    If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world. These are still our core principles today.
    Transparency, in partnership with its cousin, authenticity, will open us to relationships and experiences that will enable us to overcome the hindrances we all face. The community that forms, makes us all stronger.
    My struggle with Facebook is that I doubt their sincerity, and they haven’t earned my trust. They need my data to make a profit. So, while the vision Zuckerberg espouses, is in alignment with mine, I’m not sure if we both have altruistic purposes.
    I would like to hear more about how he intends to accomplish this vision, and what he believes will be the outcome of attaining it.

  4. I agree. Every facet of life is ‘controlled’ by fear. Politics, Media, Religion, and others all use fear to control (something they put off as ‘leading’).
    The absence of fear is Freedom. I like being free.

  5. Jon- Great thoughts; I’m not there though. Yes, I have relaxed quite a bit but I am still very concerned about the lack of privacy we have human nature being what it is.
    All it takes is one encounter with a stalker(I have a friend who’s life has been a living hell)…or in our case as of last week, someone getting our debit card number and leaving a mess that I’m STILL cleaning up.
    I’m also concerned about the younger generation who disclose everything before there’s any sense of discretion developed.
    And as a former nurse, the idea of medical records being online scares the daylights out of me. Yes, I can see the benefit. But I see a lot of liabilities too. (Errors at the DMV are hard enough to clean up…what about the bubble headed nurse who enters wrong info on your chart and you’re unconscious?)
    As a writer though, this is a topic I regularly visit as I need public visibility. But I also examine what I’m doing/ not doing because if any of behaviors are founded out of fear, I hold them suspect. But at the same time, I try to ask if the fear is warranted.
    As you can see….the jury’s still out for this gal. 🙂

  6. kybook says:

    And Zuckerberg makes money from all of us sharing our info to make a better world? How benevolent of him.

  7. Jon, I had this conversation with one of my best friends and online guides @loyan, just a few nights ago. When we first started on social media he said he used to hide his face behind a soccer ball due to fear of being seen online. Today he is one of the most outspoken people on open sharing that I can recall. Like Mike, I am seeing people completely change their mind once they get their toe wet and let the fear fall. Yes we need to be careful, but we can’t let fear rule us.

  8. I see sharing as a good thing, within reason. As some have noted, there is some information that should not be shared with the general population, such as credit card numbers. And while revealing our location probably isn’t going to significantly increase the chance of our house being robbed, because people already have a good idea of when we’ll be gone anyway, that doesn’t mean that we should reveal all information.
    One commentor said that “the absence of fear is Freedom.” I couldn’t disagree more. Fear, when we have a fear of the right things, is a healthy thing. We fear fire, for example, and know to teach our children not to play with matches. The parent who doesn’t have that fear may experience the death of a child and be jailed for negligence. This is not freedom.
    And while fear is sometimes used by religion to control, a fear of God is a healthy thing. God kills people and sends wicked people to hell. When facing a God like that, it is healthy to fear him and seek to understand how to avoid his judgement.
    In like fashion, while sharing information can be a good thing, there are plenty of people who will take that information and use it against us, if they can find a way to do it. It is healthy for us to fear that and be selective of what information we make available.

  9. Jon: I agree with many of your points on the missed opportunity of a more open, sharing-focused society. My major agreement is your insight on fear.
    Where I disagree is with 1.) how Facebook uses that information and 2.) that most everyone is participating in something they’re not ready for. It doesn’t take much for Facebook to reverse the course of their controls from opt-out to opt-in. We make these requirements of iTunes when we buy music, we sign mindless 97 page terms of service agreements before pressing “confirm” all the time. Further, I can say that I have recently had to go from being extremely open and gregarious to more constrained and thoughtful with my privacy settings because of the cross-referencing of an organization like Facebook. I like my comments. I stand behind my comments. I like what I post. But it gets cross-pollinated and re-distributed via the open doors into other people’s information. Social media does not move in linear progressions, but forked spokes. One person can intentionally be driving contact and looking to tighten bonds with one other person, or one group, and inadvertently be severing communication with others. Yes, that’s always been the case. But the quality of the communication has gone down as the quantity has increased, and the ability to understood by all these different mediums of communication distribution has gone down as they number of mediums has increased. And that’s the bigger point: fear of misusing the system and being exposed as an evolutionary simpleton (ironically, just like everyone else in the experiment!).
    We are in a beta stage that is moving very quickly with a mass audience of 400 million plus participating. But let’s face it: face to face communication remains the highest and best form of communication, followed by over the phone, then email. Take face to face for example: there is what is said, and then how it is said. Eyebrows and facial temples communicate amazing amounts of information. Posture? Chin and nose position? If the majority of our communication is non-verbal, and things like inflections, cadence and tone matter greatly, then email and beyond are lacking.
    I believe video distribution, tweets, texts and chats are all secondary to email communication. However, in the span of a half decade, we have migrated as new beings who have antiquated email and endorsed these secondary levels of communication as our primary-and-standard. I think so much of the privacy conversation is dishonest because it has nothing to do with privacy; privacy is the cause celebre because it’s sexy, but it’s the symptom on top of our fear. Most experiment participants have brains that have (surprise!) not evolved to the new primary-standard medium. Count me as one of the many. They/I don’t know how to chat, text, or video message as a primary form of communication, and therefore consistently stumble, boggle and offend, and then react to the “privacy” factor which allows all this diffuse connectivity. Where I agree with you Jon is that the real driver here is fear. But in turn, I think privacy is the easy whipping boy in the media-driven conversation. It isn’t privacy at all. It is our inability to evolve at light speed to a new standard form of communication that pretty consistently fails or embarrasses.
    What is required of our central processing faculties is pretty astounding, and while there is no restriction on speech per se, there is an evolutionary restriction on being understood. I think that latter part is a portion of the privacy factor: as active players in a mass beta test where the rules get made on the go we are afraid due to our agreements with openness, of being known as failures, broadcasting our indiscretions unknowingly to an increasingly distant, virtual audience we say we know, but really don’t.

  10. Just looking through “Propaganda and the ethics of persuasion” by Randal Marlin and Canada’s Competition Act C-34, 74.01
    It’s about control, and relationship… and more and more trust is being leveraged out of people. If there is no relationship, trust becomes an arbitrary decision.. trust has to be given away freely.. to those with the priestly ability to connect us, bring us “together”.
    Fear and freedom are a very real dialectic… it’s both/and, not either/or… Perfect love may cast out all fear, but Facebook doesn’t love me, or have my best interests in mind… and that’s the bottom line.
    Facebook is a technically efficient structure providing a certain service full of massive amounts of personal information that is being leveraged with certain means toward what ends? Ends we obviously told we have to trust… and is that the crux… “Trust us, we have your best interests in mind. We’re not going to do anything inappropriate here…”
    “Lenina liked the drums. Shutting her eyes she abandoned herself to their soft repeated thunder, allowed it to invade her consciousness more and more completely, till at last there was nothing left in the world but the one deep pulse of sound…
    But a little later it was reminding her a good deal less of that innocuous function.”
    -Aldous Huxley

  11. I have two daughters whom I love dearly. I want others to know & understand them and I want them to know & understand others. I want them to be connected with the entire world.
    Consider our most shameful behaviors as a people. How many of those behaviors were/are rooted in the absence of mutual understanding.

  12. Justin H says:

    Hey Jon,
    Great way to get us thinking about privacy and how much we share. I do agree that sharing is the norm of society these days and by allowing our basic information to be shared, it opens up many more opportunities for us.
    However, I also believe in the individual’s right to decide how much to share. Where I disagree with Zuckerburg is that he set the defaults for personal information to be shared, and then placed the privacy settings behind a wall of complexity.
    Breaking away from the media’s stranglehold of fear is important, but I also think that forcing someone to be more open will have the opposite effect and make them more closed and defensive because they will feel like their privacy has been violated.
    By default our culture is shifting towards a more open society and when the current generation of high schoolers graduates college and enters the workforce, I think we’ll shift even more toward openness.
    While I think Zuckerburg has responded well to the adverse reaction, I think he set himself back in his goals to get more people to be open.

  13. Agreed on two points. 1) About the transparency issue and 2) About the other gem in this piece… how Facebook follows the path IT feels is right based on their direction versus the naysayers, etc.
    On the privacy, security and sharing side… It’s like I told my mom about her fear of buying something online because she “felt” like it was less safe and that someone might steal her card and identity. I said, “Mom, there is always risk no matter what you do but do the benefits outweigh the risk? And more specifically, you think it’s safer to hand some guy your credit card at a restaurant? That guy could copy your info + your 3-4 digit security code and go on shopping spree before you even knew what hit you.”
    Security is an allusion that is rooted in fear and control.

  14. Jon, are you suggesting nothing should be kept private?
    Do you think people’s voting records, shopping history, and movie rental records should be open to public scrutiny? Do think the world would be a better place if people’s medical history was public so we all know which politicians, pastors, friends and co-workers have been treated for which STDs? How about if we make everyone’s DNA a matter of public record so recruiters and insurance companies can profile based on genetic markers? Or how about if we just make a nude photo of every person on the planet publicly available?
    Obviously I’m using extreme examples, but I cite them to illustrate the fact that “If people share more, the world will become more open and connected” is not a universal truth and has its limits.
    Aggregating anonymous data has lots of potential benefits, but people also screw up and others scheme to steal data. Anonymous data doesn’t always stay anonymous.
    It’s not something I lie awake at night worrying about. I don’t have a lot of secrets, and I don’t post anything online I wouldn’t want made public. But I think privacy is an important issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

  15. Are you KIDDING me??
    He has continually removed privacy features that were very important to me and my social networks. Lack of choice (apple fan boys are oblivious to this) and completely betraying your base are NEVER a good move. I am amazed to see someone defend one of the most blatantly obvious mistakes in brand trust to date. I had to contact my family and let them know which details were public and which were not, they were horrified and very very mad because previously they had set all of this of private for very good reasons.

  16. It’s hard to be benevolent if you’re broke. There’s no crime in having money. It’s what you do with it that is important. Have you researched what Zuckerberg does with money so that you can make an informed comment?

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