Most people know the story by now of how 19-year-old Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his college dorm room.
The site, which essentially began as an online student directory, went live on Feb. 4, 2004. Thefacebook, as it was then called, became popular almost instantly. Within four days, more than 650 students had registered. After one month, the number had reached 10,000. And now, more than six years later, close to 500 million people worldwide actively use the site.
Author David Kirkpatrick spent a considerable amount of time with Zuckerberg while writing his new book The Facebook Effect. Zuckerberg, Kirkpatrick tells NPR's Deborah Amos, is adamant in his belief that the world is becoming more open.
"He sees the world as moving very rapidly toward transparency and very rapid sharing of data between individuals in all sorts of ways, on and off Facebook," Kirkpatrick says. "And from the day he first created his system, he had this ethos of sharing that he strongly believed in."
For Zuckerberg, that ethos means sharing everything. He disagrees with the notion that people have different identities. To him, the idea that someone is different at work than at home, than at a rock concert, is dishonest. Says Kirkpatrick, "He believes that he will live a better life personally, and all of us will be more honest, and ultimately it will be better for the world if we dispense with that belief."
Sharing everything, though, can get users into trouble. At least 30 percent of employers have rejected applicants because of things they've found on Facebook and other social networks, Kirkpatrick says. He gives examples of people who have made some big Facebook mistakes, like jurors who post information about the trials they're involved in, or a prison guard who "friends" prisoners.
There's also the problem of what's known as "peer-to-peer" privacy violations. While users may not be posting information about themselves, their friends and family are -- and many times, it's information that people might not want out there. Shortly after the new head of the British intelligence service was named, it came to light that his wife had been using Facebook to post pictures of their children and details that could reveal his home address.
It's understandable, then, that people are concerned about privacy and security. Not surprisingly, Facebook has encountered a lot of pushback about its privacy policies. Some of that has come from individual users. But it's also coming from governments, such as the Pakistani government, which considered shutting down Facebook entirely after some users formed a group called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." Facebook ended up removing the group, even though it didn't violate the terms of service.
"When you have a genuinely global system like this and all the different value systems that it encounters in being global," Kirkpatrick says, "it's quite amazing all the challenges it's going to face from government. There's no way that Facebook is going to avoid substantial regulatory pushback in many ways."
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DEBORAH AMOS, host:
Many people know the story by now how a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore started Facebook in his college dorm room. Ancient history - that was 2003.
Nearly a half billion people now use Mark Zuckerberg's social networking site. Still, Facebook has yet to make a profit and there are many questions over privacy raised by users and now some governments.
David Kirkpatrick is the author of a new book, "The Facebook Effect."
Mr. DAVID KIRKPATRICK (Author, "The Facebook Effect"): Good to be here.
AMOS: Before we get to the privacy issues, I'd like to talk a bit about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. You had amazing access to him. Whats his world view and how does that shape what Facebook is?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, he sees the world as increasingly opening up, on and off Facebook. And from the day he first created his system, he had this ethos of sharing that he strongly believed in.
You know, the history of humanity has basically been in villages and small towns. And in that context, people pretty much knew each other's business. It's very interesting to me that a system created by a guy like Mark Zuckerberg, which is all about sort of getting inside the business of your friends, has emerged just at the moment when we're all moving to cities. Because it actually suggests that we can maybe make this transition and retain some of the same dynamic we had in the small town.
AMOS: And the investment firms are saying that Facebook is worth over $10 billion. What exactly...
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: More than that, actually. The latest transactions put it in the 25, 26 billion dollar range.
AMOS: It's extraordinary. So whats so valuable?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, in the United States, where about 125 million people use Facebook at least once a month, the average of those Americans, according to Nielsen, is they're spending seven hours a month there. So you have 125 million Americans spending seven hours a month, and then you look at it it's 500 million worldwide. You know, this is just something that you can't disregard. It's a massive, massive way that people are spending their time.
AMOS: Well, I must say, reading the book, it's very clear that the money part of this almost came as a surprise.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, I think if there's a theme to the book, the theme is that Zuckerberg is not building a business. He's a building what he considers to be a social movement. And I really do think thats what he thinks.
Now, he does think theyll make money over time. It's just that he doesnt make that his priority. The way he's always looked at it is, let's get ubiquity and once we do, then we'll figure out how to quote-unquote "monetize this thing."
AMOS: Let's talk about some of the bigger ideas that surround this notion of privacy. Zuckerberg talks about transparency - it's the utmost importance, he says. What he is talking about is you can't have two personas: the professional face and your personal face.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Right.
AMOS: How realistic is that?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: That's a really tough question to answer. I mean he says - and I have a whole chapter, as you may have noticed, which is subtitled "You Have One Identity," which is a quote from him. And he believes that he will live a better life personally, and all of us will be more honest, and ultimately it will be better for the world, if we dispense with all of that fa�ade. Thats his personal belief.
But it's quite interesting that someone holding that belief has succeeded in building a system that 500 million people use.
(Soundbite of laughter)
AMOS: You do write, though, that 30 percent of employers have rejected applicants because of things they found on Facebook.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Facebook or other social networks. But, yes. Mm-hmm.
AMOS: So there's a consequence to having one personality.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Right. Well, I think, frankly, anybody who puts secret data about themselves on Facebook or anyplace on the Internet is na�ve, if they think it's not potentially going to get seen by others.
AMOS: You have some remarkable examples, which raises questions about personal responsibility. For example, the new head of British intelligence...
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: I love that example.
AMOS: ...after he was named, it turned out that his wife had been posting pictures of his children and details of his address.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Right.
AMOS: Prison guards who friend prisoners. In trials, jurors who have posted opinions on Facebook during deliberations.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Right.
AMOS: You dont have to post that. Do you think that users have something to learn as well?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, they definitely do. And you probably also noticed that there's a - I quote a legal scholar who wrote a long paper last year in which he he said he believes a large percentage of what we consider privacy problems with Facebook are what he calls peer-to-peer privacy violations, where our "friends," quote-unquote, are the ones exposing data about ourselves in ways that we dont like.
AMOS: One of the themes of your book is that privacy issues are not new, and theyve been quite heated with Facebook users over time. Do you think that this is a way that this community - everybody who's on Facebook - is beginning to determine what exactly privacy is?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: You mean it's sort of a user-generated decision-making process in effect?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Yes, we live in an explosive world of data production and much of that data is about ourselves. And there's not much we can do about it with the extraordinary, you know, marketing apparatus that exists to try target us both on and off the Internet, and we all just act so much digitally. We create data about ourselves at phenomenal rates.
So, you know, I think there's another side to it. There's a certain anonymity in obscurity. As the quantity of data about us grows, the fact that any given piece of data about us might be exposed in the world probably becomes less problematic over time. Because similar data is increasingly being exposed about everyone else we know - therefore it's less remarkable. And I think whether or not Facebook continues to grow, I think thats going to be the case. And we almost certainly will be less concerned about privacy more and more as time goes on.
AMOS: Is it possible that it will be governments - and not the U.S. government - that will push more on this privacy issue?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, a number of them have already. You may have noticed just a week or so ago, the Pakistani government was considering shutting down Facebook in Pakistan because there was a group called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, and that was considered sacrilegious by Muslims in Pakistan. And Facebook actually ended up removing the group, even though technically it wasnt a violation of its terms of service.
You know, when you have a genuinely global system like this and all the different value systems that it encounters in being global, I think it's quite amazing, all the challenges it's going to face from government. As I end the book, I say clearly - and I do believe this - there's no way Facebook is going to avoid substantial regulatory pushback in many ways, because of the exposure of data, because of the way that it's trying to become an identity sort of infrastructure, and maintaining even what might be considered a passport for the Internet when that sort of function has always been done by government in the past.
AMOS: Thank you very much.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, thanks so much for having me.
AMOS: David Kirkpatrick is the author of "The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World."
For more information on successful social sites - one example, how one man used Facebook to take on Colombia guerillas - go to our Web site, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.