Facebook isn't violating your privacy -- Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are.
That was the message from Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO who has consistently faced criticism over his site's privacy practices, during an interview with Charlie Rose.
Facebook’s way of handling its users' personal information has brought the company crosswise with lawmakers in the United States, Europe and South Korea; prompted Facebook boycotts; and even inspired one photographer to stalk Zuckerberg and snap photos of him in the name of "turning the tables" on the entrepreneur.
Yet Zuckerberg argued that Facebook is far more privacy-friendly than other web behemoths, who are less transparent about the data they collect and how they use it. The Facebook co-founder called out Microsoft by name as one company violating users' privacy, though Microsoft was an early investor in the company and owns a fraction of the social network.
"If you look at companies, whether it's Google or Yahoo! or Microsoft, right, that have search engines and ad networks, they also have a huge amount of information about you. It's just that they're collecting that about you behind your back, really," Zuckerberg said, according to a transcript of the interview, which airs November 7. " And it's like you're going -- you're going around the web, and they have cookies, and they're collecting this huge amount of information about who you are. But you never know that."
Zuckerberg maintained that Facebook collects only the information a user chooses to share with the social network, whereas Google and other internet companies silently compile data about individuals as these users browse the web. These firms are the real threat, but Facebook "appears scarier" because it is more transparent in how it displays what its users have shared, Zuckerberg argued.
"[T]he people have little or no control over the information that a company like Google or Yahoo! or Microsoft has about you," said Zuckerberg. "I think that these companies with those big ad networks are basically getting away with collecting huge amounts of information, likely way more information than people are sharing on Facebook about themselves...[I]n reality, you have control over every single thing that you've shared on Facebook."
At one point during the interview, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg asserted that Facebook often came up in the context of online privacy because it had pioneered new privacy precautions, a point Rose immediately contested.
"I think it is the case that people talk about Facebook and privacy a lot, and I think it will continue to be the case, but it’s because we lead in this area, meaning that we are the most privacy-focused place for anyone to share anything," said Sandberg.
"Well, no, it’s because you have more information about everybody than anybody else," Rose countered.
Lawmakers might not be so sympathetic to Facebook's argument. During a hearing on mobile privacy earlier this year, Senator Jay Rockefeller told Facebook chief technology officer Bret Taylor that his companies' practices were "indefensible" and accused Zuckerberg of being devoid of "social values."
During the Charlie Rose interview, Zuckerberg also reflected on his relationship with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, whom the Facebook CEO called "amazing." Zuckerberg noted that he had asked Jobs questions about running a tech company, such as "how to build a team around you...that's focused on building as high quality and good things as you are" and "how to keep an organization focused;" along with questions about the "aesthetics" and "mission orientation of companies."
"I think we connected a lot on this level of, okay, Facebook has this mission that's really more than just trying to build a company, right, that has a market cap or a value," Zuckerberg said. He added that Jobs understood Zuckerberg was not interested in selling Facebook and said it was one way that the two men "saw eye to eye on...what we were trying to do in the world."
Watch an excerpt of Charlie Rose's interview with Zuckerberg and Sandberg below, or check PBS's Station Finder to see where you can catch the broadcast of the interview: