Mark Zuckerberg Called Obama to Lecture Him About Privacy. Apparently It Did Not Go Well.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 13 2014 7:25 PM

Mark Zuckerberg Called Obama to Lecture Him About Privacy. Apparently It Did Not Go Well.

Mark Zuckerberg, privacy activist.
"But, Mr. President, the Internet runs on trust!"

Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

The U.S. government risks undermining people's trust in the Internet if it keeps invading their privacy, warns Mark Zuckerberg, who ought to know.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

In a status update Thursday, the Facebooker-in-chief reports that he called up President Obama himself to complain about fresh reports of government spying. He didn’t explain just what it was that set him off, but it may have been this report by Glenn Greenwald and former Future Tense-er Ryan Gallagher, which alleges that the NSA posed as a Facebook server to hack into people’s hard drives. The NSA has denied this, but then, it would.


Anyway, apparently if you invent Facebook, you can just speed-dial the president when you’ve got beef with how he’s running the country. It doesn’t guarantee, however, that you’ll like what he has to say. From Zuckerberg’s post (italics mine):

As the world becomes more complex and governments everywhere struggle, trust in the internet (sic) is more important today than ever. …
This is why I've been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we're protecting you against criminals, not our own government.
The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they're doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.
I've called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.
So it's up to us—all of us—to build the internet we want. ...*

He's basically right, of course. But it does make one wonder when tech executives will learn that this sort of grandstanding plays better if you don't wait until your own corporate interests have been directly affected to take umbrage.

Politico has confirmed that the president spoke with Zuckerberg, but the White House is not offering any juicy details, so one can only guess at the president’s side of the conversation based on Zuckerberg's frustration with the outcome.* I can only assume it went something like this:  

Obama laughing

Getty Images

*Update, Friday, March 14, 9:40 a.m.: This post has been updated to clarify that the conclusion that the conversation did not go well is based on Zuckerberg's apparent frustration with the outcome. The headline has been changed to make it clear that this is an assumption rather than a confirmed fact.

Previously in Slate:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.



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