Mark Zuckerberg: Privacy Settings Hurt Site Engagement

One of the less discussed aspects of Mark Zuckerberg’s interview at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View last week was a comment he mentioned about the impact that privacy settings have on engagement. While Facebook is known for providing a series of advanced tools for managing privacy, the company’s metrics have revealed that in the broad sense, less privacy settings results in increased engagement. This could explain some of the push for making information public by default. It could also explain the new embrace of Facebook Questions.

The Case Of India

Mark Zuckerberg explained an interesting phenomenon that the company realized when they expanded the site into new countries. As the company expanded globally, the only networks that were available in new countries, were the countries themselves. In other words, if you joined as a user in India, you became a member of the network “India”. In the U.S. however, users joined as members of Universities, companies, and other networks. While Facebook has since killed off “networks” as it pertains to privacy, networks were originally used as a way to limit what information users could access.
For example, if you attended Harvard University, other users at Harvard University had much of their profile information exposed to you by default. In India however, whenever a new user joined, they could view all other users in the entire country of India because there was only one network: India. According to Zuckerberg, this form of “open network” resulted in a dramatic increase in overall in engagement. In the U.S. however, engagement has decreased as a result of advanced privacy settings.

Privacy Settings Hurt The Site

While Mark Zuckerberg’s theory that the world is becoming more transparent may be a legitimate one, it’s also clear that the founder has other motives behind making information more public on the site. As someone who was sitting in the audience, it appeared as though this decreased level of engagement actually pained Zuckerberg or was at a minimum a point of concern. If users that have more public settings spend more time, that must mean that the world prefers to be more open, right?
Ultimately, the level of engagement on the site is the best metric of determining a user’s core desires, however I’m not quite sure that users believe that they want to be more public. Regardless, users in the United States, and other areas where privacy settings were much more restrictive, have been extremely vocal about maintaing their privacy settings. Facebook however is doing whatever they can to make more information public, as they appear to believe that making more information public will keep people on the site for longer periods of time.
They may be right, however this also contrasts the long-term vision that the future of Facebook is off of the site, as Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly stated. Between the conflict of private versus public and on-site versus off-site usage, Facebook has a lot of internal conflicts that will need to be resolved as the company moves forward. In the meantime, users that want privacy will continue to have privacy for the most part and continue to grow less engaged, while the rest of the world opens up and increases their level of engagement on Facebook.