I read Mark Zuckerberg’s opinion in the WSJ with great interest. Therein he attempts in unusually clear and jargon-free language for Silicon Valley, to explain how and why his Internet platform uses our data and our personal relationships to operate and critically, to make money. Zuckerberg’s article reads as an open and honest apologia. It is also a good lens by which to view the overall state of consumer technology, and the choice we must make between greed and good.
Zuckerberg’s letter is a stark reminder of the simple fact that the technology industry has failed users in numerous, key ways. Largely these failures are failures of omission, not commission. However, these failures are symptoms of a larger disease of greed that we are all prone to contracting in the pursuit of profit. This disease is the willingness to if not break the rules, then to bend them to suit one’s own ends. While many of the practices and abuses of privacy and user data that have been exposed in the recent months are not per se, illegal, they are clear violations of the spirit of holding our users — also called people — at the center of our moral and business universe.
At Rakuten Viber, we are not philanthropists or activists, nor are we radicals or politicians. We are a business. But we live by the belief that messaging tools are vital for freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right, and should remain free in all senses of the word. This naturally means that we must generate revenue as a business to keep it so. And there’s the problem.
There are only two ways to do this sustainably: (1) become a foundation (Wikipedia model) or (2) open the doors of monetizable partnerships with brands who want to access our users. We have chosen the latter and are succeeding. We know we can build large and scalable businesses without exploitation. In fact, as Mr. Zuckerberg points out, most tech companies are naturally aligned with protecting user data and integrity in order to maintain their competitive advantages. Targeted advertising that is based on opt-in user consent, clear EULAs, and anonymized metadata are all fair and sustainable ways to operate a consumer platform. Problems arise, however, when some mega ambitious entrepreneurs seek to push the limits, when “move fast and break things” and we’ll fix later trumps respecting the sanctity of our private communications.
Technology companies, like human beings, must be judged not on what they say, but on what they do. It’s becoming abundantly clear that companies that enshrine and build in privacy protection features like end-to-end encryption and cautiously manage user data can be trusted to be honest and responsible stewards of our digital lives. And ultimately those who move fast and break things will do just that — they will break our trust.
As a product and as a business Facebook has done so many things right — on a scale that’s never been seen before in the world. These achievements are monumental and bring with them far-reaching consequences for our societies. Also with these achievement comes the clear and unavoidable responsibility to behave in a way that sets the standard for the rest of the industry and the rest of the world to follow. I believe Facebook can change not just the technology industry, but the fabric of our culture by pledging to protect user privacy and safeguard encryption by default.
This is why I am calling on Facebook and the rest of the technology industry to join us in a Privacy Pledge:
- No reading or storing of any private chats
- No listening or recording of any private calls
- No scanning of any private media exchanged (pictures or video)
- No listening of live conversations through the microphone of a mobile phone
- By default, all settings (like end-to-end encryption) will be set to the most secure option. If needed the users will have to unlock those security features themselves and give explicit consent.
Further, these practices need to be explained to users in what engineers refer to as “human-readable” language, that means there needs to be clear and explicit consent that is easily understood and comprises no more than a couple of lines of text to explain.
This Pledge can revolutionize and enshrine the belief that if people are the center of our products, then the privacy rights of “we the people” are paramount. It’s time to show the world that tech is about more than hockey stick growth, IPOs and excess. It’s time to use the tools we’ve built to be not tools of exploitation, alienation and exhaustion, but instead beacons of fairness, respect and protection for our users.
The world is waiting. Your move Mr. Zuckerberg, will you do the right thing?