Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg ’06 took part in a discussion about data security and targeted advertising at Harvard Law School on Feb. 11.
The discussion, led by Law School Professor Jonathan L. Zittrain, was for students in his course HLS 2433: "Internet & Society: The Technologies and Politics of Control, and Techtopia," a research and teaching initiative for Harvard students and faculty focused on technology issues.
Zittrain said Zuckerberg’s level of personal control over Facebook policies made him a good candidate for the conversation.
“A change to Facebook's acceptable use policy has immediate and far-reaching effects on speech that previously weren't possible through a single private party,” Zittrain wrote in an email. “Mark is the ultimate decision maker for the company in a way that most CEOs are not.”
Zittrain started the discussion asking about “information fiduciaries,” a new arrangement that improves how internet companies handle sensitive data and prioritize users’ interests on their sites, according to a press release about the event.
“The idea of us having a fiduciary relationship with the people who use our services is intuitive,” Zuckerberg said at the talk. “Where this gets interesting is who gets to decide in the legal sense, or in the policy sense, of what’s in people’s best interest.”
The two hour talk also included a discussion of targeted advertising, a practice that has brought Facebook scrutiny in recent years. Zittrain raised the possibility of giving users “a score of how much I’ve earned for Facebook this year,” which could lead to the development of an “informed conversation about an ad-free Facebook subscription model.”
“Are we going to let people pay to have different controls on data use than other people?” Zuckerberg asked in response. “And my answer to that is a hard no.”
Zuckerberg instead suggested a soon-to-be-released tool he called “Clear History” which will give users control over certain data that Facebook uses for targeted advertising.
Zittrain wrote that he was impressed with Zuckerberg’s affirmation of consumer loyalty following data breaches on the website in recent years.
“I was pleased to see him affirm on the record the ideal — however much it's honored in the breach — of Facebook owing a duty of loyalty to its consumers,” Zittrain wrote.
The event was the first of a series of discussions hosted by Techtopia, which Zittrain co-founded.
“I think it's vital for us to bring together students interested in these issues across far-flung departments, centers, and methodologies.” Zittrain wrote.
—Staff writer Connor W. K. Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ConnorWKBrown.
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