Mark Zuckerberg Says Facebook's Privacy Policy A ‘Third Rail Issue’… Do You Agree?

When Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks, the world listens. And speak he does in a new 6,000-word New Yorker profile that delves right into the most contentious issue facing the social networking giant today: privacy. Already stirring the debate are Zuckerberg’s unapologetic response to the site’s privacy settings and his characterization of privacy as the Internet’s “third rail issue.”

A new set of privacy settings announced by Facebook in May have yet to quiet the site’s critics, but Zuckerberg remains unrepentant, telling writer Jose Antonio Vargas, “A lot of people who are worried about privacy and those kinds of issues will take any minor misstep that we make and turn it into as big a deal as possible. We realize that people will probably criticize us for this for a long time, but we just believe that this is the right thing to do.”

Zuckerberg comes across in the profile as sincere about his belief in a less private world and that the site’s users benefit from what he calls “openness.” That, along with Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile (“I’m trying to make the world a more open place.”) seem to point where privacy is headed, from Facebook’s point of view.

Notoriously media-shy, the CEO practiced what he preached for this profile, giving Vargas unprecedented access, in 21st century style, by allowing Vargas to become his Facebook friend.   What’s interesting is, after receiving that access, the link Vargas makes between Zuck’s philosophy and Facebook’s business model:

Zuckerberg may seem like an over-sharer in the age of over-sharing. But that’s kind of the point. Zuckerberg’s business model depends on our shifting notions of privacy, revelation, and sheer self-display. The more that people are willing to put online, the more money his site can make from advertisers. Happily for him, and the prospects of his eventual fortune, his business interests align perfectly with his personal philosophy.’

Close followers of Zuckerberg and the social media sector will recognize that economic-philosophical link realized again in the site’s latest privacy settings and data showing the more information is public the more engaged users become. Our colleague Nick O’Neill did some interesting reporting on this in July following Zuckerberg’s appearance at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Critics, will no doubt, point to this as evidence that Zuckerberg, and Facebook, are in it for themselves more than their users. It’s an interesting debate and one that, as this profile shows, will not end soon. Tell us, what do you think?