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Mark Zuckerberg and Congress: Re-imagining Facebook


Amid a dizzying torrent of advice — most of it unsolicited — Mark Zuckerberg, CEO Facebook, is scheduled to meet with Congressional leaders tomorrow.

What should he say — and do? 

(I’m not a social media technology expert, but I play one — temporarily — in this blog.)

At root, Facebook faces a crisis of trust “‘No one trusts Facebook, It’s Viral Stars Complain”  .

That is very heavy baggage for a company (or anyone). Unpacking it will require nothing less than a fundamental change in the Facebook business model. 

Facebook should become an acknowledged “fiduciary company”. 

That’s from Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain, author of “The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop it”. In his New York Times op-ed, Opinion: Mark Zuckerberg Can Still Fix This Mess ,he contends that such a bold turn-around could generate many needed policy and technology changes.

“… doctors and lawyers draw lots of sensitive information from, and wield a lot of power over, their patients and clients. There’s not only an ethical trust relationship there, but also a legal one: that of a ‘fiduciary’, which at it’s core means that professionals are obliged to place their clients’ interests ahead of their own.”

… “Given the blowback around current privacy and advertising practices — and the threat of regulation … companies like Facebook should do the right thing and commit to representing users’ interests. And the law might nudge them in the right direction without outright requiring it. These actions might reduce Facebook’s growth and profitability, [ital. added] but that is not a compelling reason to stop doing something harmful. It may be that aspects of an advertising-based business model are indeed incompatible with ethically serving users …”

(Simplistic baseball analogy: A batter purposely gets hit by a pitch to get on base  to start a rally – “Take one for the team.”)

 Zittrain continues, “… Facebook does contribute efforts to improve our digital lives … But in terms of privacy it  could get the ball rolling on the adoption of new technologies that can help. Users could be given more options for expiration dates for what they share — and a chance to find out instantly where their data has traveled. Photos and data can be beneficially tweaked so that individuals involved are not digitally identifiable.”

These commitments in the public interest — or something like them — could indeed be costly without measurable financial offsets. But, like many socially responsible corporate decisions, preservation of a company’s valuable reputation can be immeasurable but vital.

Support for such a bold company re-direction is offered in What does a company owe its country — and society?  

That is now the existential question for Facebook.