When do you throw a CEO’s privacy under the bus?

It’s interesting that lots of people who really don’t like Facebook’s privacy don’t get mad when journalists and bloggers put into public view Steve Jobs’ emails to them.

Today I got an email from Mark Zuckerberg, CEO/founder of Facebook. I am not going to be the one to put that into public view until he gives me permission to.

Why not?

1. Mark is a friend. Someone I want to have a long-term relationship with and I can guarantee you that if someone took MY emails and put them into public view they wouldn’t be trusted as a real-life friend.
2. If I start doing that, other people will trust me less. Even if I didn’t care about what Mark thought of me, I do care what other people in the industry think of me and I want them to be free to send me emails without having them show up on my blog without their prior permission.
3. If he wanted it in public he could have answered me in public, there’s lots of ways to do that, including at http://facebook.com/scobleizer

That said, I asked for permission to put the email into public view because I think you all should have access to the information in it. I’ll let you know later.

What would you have done with an email if Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg emailed you?

It’s amazing to me that people who are speaking up about privacy and Facebook, like Jason Calacanis, Leo Laporte, Jeff Jarvis haven’t spoken out against having Steve Jobs’ emails taken out of a private context and printed in a public one.

If you don’t speak up for Steve Jobs’ privacy, what right do you have to speak up for your own privacy? Why isn’t that hypocritical? Just because CEOs are public figures and their emails contain information that would be of interest to the public?


UPDATE: Zuckerberg gave me permission to print this email while I was typing this post:


We’ve been listening to all the feedback and have been trying to distill it down to the key things we need to improve. I’d like to show an improved product rather than just talk about things we might do.

We’re going to be ready to start talking about some of the new things we’ve built this week. I want to make sure we get this stuff right this time.

I know we’ve made a bunch of mistakes, but my hope at the end of this is that the service ends up in a better place and that people understand that our intentions are in the right place and we respond to the feedback from the people we serve.

I hope we’ll get a chance to catch up in person sometime this week. Let me know if you have any thoughts for me before then.


Here’s a screen shot of the email string:

Email with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

170 thoughts on “When do you throw a CEO’s privacy under the bus?

  1. I have no idea how I came to this site/blog/whatever. Scobe doesn’t seem to understand his relationship with Boy-lucky Mark. Scobe things they are friends and obviously Mark sees him as an easy PR outlet. The way that email was written Mark knew full well that it would be posted (permission not needed) and it would seem that his internal emails were “leaked”, truly showing his concern for his minions…so transparent, high-schoolish and obvious

  2. Kudos Robert,
    Just because FaceBook doesn't respect people's privacy doesn't mean you shouldn't.
    Good Call..
    (unlike the non-credible Arrington who will publish anything, twitter docas from publishers, whack seo articles, etc..)

  3. Scobleizer-
    this email example is an inaccurate analogy. in this situation FB is the email server admin, and changed your email settings to make your email data PUBLIC. everybody knows once something is emailed it can be made public, but you don't want the hotmail admin to be the one you have to watch out for. This email conversation stuff makes no sense.

  4. Mark can talk all he wants about wanting to do better, but until he and the Facebook team stop willingly throwing members in front of their experiments as they try to ‘hit the mark’, they’ll keep making enemies. He can apologize until the sun goes down, but I’m done with Facebook and see no hope for remediation. A relationship can tolerate only so much abuse, and Facebook went over the line.

  5. @Norman Rogers : Thank you for being reasonable,prudent,courageous,and proper in your comment.
    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
    To Win:”Good people are obliged to be courageous more than the bad people.”
    Ismet Inonu-Second President of The Turkish Republic
    Best Wishes

  6. Sources of news is broader now than ever. Obviously all reporters want to (and do) use all their sources. Those that can do it and still respect the privacy of their sources regardless of the sources notoriety will stand out from the pack.

  7. Robert, you are on target for asking Mark’s permission for you to publish the email string. If you do, or do not, know him personally, your approach was a class act. We need more class and less crass.

    What a senior executive or CEO anticipates as a private email exchange, just between us, or off the record is an interesting conversation. Ask 40 people their opinion and you will get 75 different answers with another 55 “it depends”.

    The CEO should be prepared for the worst. In your example, it is good to have someon as an example of how to move a conversation from private to public along with the point that your reputation with your other friends can suffer based on your public actions wth Mark’s conversation.

    My 3rd ex-wife taught me to be prepared for the worst. Ouch!


  8. Are you really equivocating _a person_ sharing -without express authorization- an email from a CEO writing on behalf of his company, with _a company_sharing the profile data of 400+ million users without their express authorization?

    Either way, it seems like asking first is the best way to go -particularly if you're a company trying to share 400 million users' data. (Hence, the need for Mark to send you this email in the first place.)

  9. Good call Robert on waiting to post until Mark Zuckerberg had OK’d it going public. There is such a thing as ‘off the record’ or asking a that anything said be held off for a time. I am glad that Mark OK’d you publishing this.

    Personally, I already deactivated my account and don’t intend to reactivate it unless more is done about security on Facebook AND privacy settings not only becoming simpler but privacy is once again by default as Mark Zuckerberg promised originally to get folks to use their service instead of the public by default service that MySpace was at the time.

    I sure hope Mark doesn’t disappoint his users this time. It has been a difficult time for many of us. I want to be able to get back on Facebook and visit with friends and family again.

  10. Good for you, sir. Taking a stand in this ethical swamp is about the only way to go forward and start making sense out of what to do.

    Delete your Facebook? Childish.

    Speak up and have the thing work better? Thank you for being an adult.

  11. The comparison here is a faulty one. You are saying that recipients who share private emails from senders in a public forum have no right to complain about Facebook doing the same thing. However, Facebook is not doing the same thing. Facebook’s privacy missteps have nothing to do with who is doing the sending and receiving. Facebook is the facilitator, not the recipient. If email is to be your analogy, then we have to look at the service providers, not the end users. If said journalists had gotten wind of Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail airing the dirty laundry of its senders, then, yes, I do believe many would be incensed, in much the same way they have been over Facebook’s maze of privacy foibles. The end user’s respect of privacy is a different story altogether. If journalists get their hands on an email (directly or indirectly), then the facilitator cannot be blamed for the repercussions, unless the facilitator itself handed over that info. In the email examples you have mentioned, the facilitator is not to blame — but Facebook IS the problem when it comes to its flaws. SHOULD journalists be printing emails from CEO’s without their express permission? It’s a good question, but it has little to do with the concerns being raised in regards to Facebook, and it hardly makes these journalists hypocrites (unless they themselves are running a multi-billion member email network from which they harvested said emails, and somehow I doubt that’s the case).

  12. Man, I wish I had a yes man like you.

    “perfectly fine” “it shows facebook's concern for each and every user”!?

    …SAY WHAT!?

    I was one of the members of Leo's chatroom who was posting the link on how to delete your facebook, and yet it's deleted. I've checked my profile three times now. It's been deleted..yet, according to Scoble's post (others talking, of course), they have “pages” of criticism about facebook. So then they delete one post about why my page will be deleted?

    But everything's “perfectly fine” and “shows Facebook's concern for each & every user”

    How much is Zuckerberg paying you?

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  14. Go ahead Robert.You're doing the right thing for all of us-FB users.The rest is bla bla-which is being going on for month.
    Seems to me,that Zuckerberg has evaluated your approaches-on the privacy issue, helpfull,and worth to listen.This is because you're trustable proven past on the industry .
    As you said above, ” If something should be discussed in public, then let's take it into public view and discuss it there “.

    Why not? FB privacy is a concern for all users.We-the avarage users have right to know what's going on,and how it will be solved.

    Keep up the good work Robert.And thank you for sharing the info with us.

    Best Regards

  15. There are 2-3 points under discussion and my humble thoughts on the same:

    1) What Tate did by making Steve's email public without permission is correct or not.
    Legally: Yes it's fine if he did that, as many of the people above have mentioned that.
    Ethically: No, it's not fine to make an email or IM conversation public, not just you are sabotaging your own reputation, but also, shows how desperation on getting your content read.

    2) Facebook's privacy story – Yes, many people commit business errors, FB did with its privacy policy. People all across the web reprimanded them, may be that's the only way FB learns because they openly changed your privacy without asking you. Have they learnt from previous mistakes? Not sure, as they repeatedly commit similar mistakes. WIll this time be the last time? May be yes, its a huge backlash they have got this time.

    3) What Robert did is arguing for is right or wrong… Legally and Ethically – correct. It just increases the respect he commands. And the people who are arguing on the fact whether a Public figure like Steve should do something like this or not…and if he does, then he should be ready, yes, he should face the music… but the ethical dilemma Ryan faces after this??

  16. Steve Jobs knows what he is doing. Things does´nt just happen. He knows when to awnser what and to whom to get things out in the public. I think he is well aware of who his real friends are that will keep the privacy.

    1. Scobie, it’s not necessary to shoot you for writing tepid prose. What I can’t believe, though, is that Zuck has any friends over the age of 25. You know the rule of 20-somethings: Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30; they’re old and in the way.

  17. Scoble, I'm STILL not sure the phrase “thow under the bus” means what you think it means.

  18. Should using company email vs personal make a difference in terms of the expectation of privacy? Could sending mail from one vs another be how you signal others of your expectations?

  19. It may be that I'm a bit too naive but reading the comments here I realise that what to me is crystal clear is not so to many others. A media person does not have permission to publicly publish any content he gets in private without a specific permission to do so – off the record unless stated otherwise, if you will.
    To me the fact that you kept this post in its entirety even after you got Mark's permission suggests that the point you were trying to make wasn't the content in Mark's email at all (that's an added bonus). The point was the ethic code media people should be following and have lately not only been breaking, but actually priding themselves in doing so. Sad that this is what we've come to.

  20. If only Facebook would show such consideration before making our private information public and then burying/removing the privacy settings for it. And in the interest of full disclosure, why not release the entire email thread? Why the secrecy if you really think the world will be a better place by being perfectly transparent about everything?

    Also, why are the profiles of most Facebook execs (Schrage, Sandberg, etc.) fairly locked down? They seem to be talking the talk about rolling back privacy to make the world a better, more transparent place, but when it comes to their own actual profiles, they aren't walking the walk.

  21. While I agree with much of the recent criticism levied toward Facebook, shouldn't internet users take more responsibility for what they are sharing online? I see private information being shared not only on Facebook but other social networks, forums, guest books, blogs, etc. As the popularity of social media continues to increase so does complacency in protecting our personal information. Facebook should be criticized for sharing users' personal information. But these privacy concerns are much bigger than one social network.

  22. I think you have to be careful about conflating your role as a journalist and your role as a friend. When you emailed Zuckerberg were you doing it as a journalist or as a friend? If you were doing it as a journalist then you should not be in the business of handing authority to your interviewees over what you, as a journalist, put in your piece. That is a dereliction of your responsibilities as a journalist (and had you been writing for me, we would be having a conversation “without coffee”)
    If, however, you emailed him as a friend, then what kind of friend even requests putting their private correspondence into the public realm.
    I think, if you consider yourself a journalist, that you have to be very clear about your role. It seems to me that your action belies a little bit of misunderstanding.
    Your first – and over-riding – duty is to your reader, not to your friendship with Mr Zuckerburg. You have that relationship, in part at least, because of your role – so in a very real sense you are corresponding on behalf of your readers. However, in this case you seem to have put your friendship with Mr Zuckerburg ahead of your duties as a journalist.
    As it turns out, there was nothing of any import in his reply and no harm was done. Mr Zuckerburg didn’t really say anything of any significance (we made some mistakes, we are doing something about it. Standard CEO flak catching).
    But I think it highlights the pitfalls of journalists having social and professional relationships with the people about whom they right. The journalist must be very clear – as must their subject – in where the professional and personal boundaries lie.
    I am not sure in this case you were all that clear and it is the reader who ultimately suffers.

    1. I think OldHack makes a very good point here. Keeping friendship and journalistic personnas separate is a very good idea. The problem does start when these lines are blurred.

  23. Perhaps I am reading it wrong but I think you are defeating your own point here.

    An e-mail, I believe, becomes your own property once you receive it. Yes it includes the thoughts of another private individual, but it is in YOUR personal inbox. It’s like if I receive a letter from someone and I make it public by printing it in a local newspaper. Yes my relationship is going to suffer and it may be unethical but what I am doing is certainly not breaching the other person’s privacy. If for example I send my girlfriend a very private e-mail and she reposts it our relationship will suffer and she would have breached my trust, but it isn’t the same as revealing my bank account details.

    I think email and IM (and the web in general) has taken away the thought we used to put behind what we said and did. Case in point is Zuckerburg’s IM exchange where he likened his users to “Dumb Fucks”. IM and e-mail ought to be treated as sending letters and once something is out of our hands we should not expect any privacy.

    What people are in uproar about over FB is the fact that in 2005 it started out tacitly stating that it would offer PRIVATE services. Instead it has breached what it said and the way it is going it could easily breach privacy laws. Leo Laporte, Jeff Jarvis, etc. are not angered that Zuckerburg has taken their private e-mails and reposted it, they are angry because he has taken what was essentially a private diary and slowly started sharing the contents of it to the web. Imagine if someone came into your house and started removing private documents.

    And finally, as a CEO his rights to privacy are at a completely different level to anyone else. Public servants ought to have the lowest level of privacy, so as to enable complete transparency and proper scrutiny of what they do (note Expenses Scandal in the UK). After that private executives in leading companies (being CEO of Facebook is like being President of the 3rd largest country in the world) should also be scrutinized to some degree. I’m not saying all his dirty laundry should be laid bare, but if he is a crook the users of that platform deserve to know it.

    1. So if there is no crime committed, then what? All of the emails he sends or receives should be published for all to see? No one can have privacy through the mail or email medium if that’s the case. Intent is considered even in a court of law. One individual could kill another: But the punishment would vary considerably over why the individual committed the act.

    1. I didn’t either. When journalists have become cheerleaders for their tech idols, it becomes a sad and dangerous world indeed. I don’t GET how all these “journalists” have become bought, or are such ‘fanboys’ they lose any credibility.

  24. Robert, I have one question for you to ask Mark – How many times are we going to see him repeat the same mistake and give the same answer as he always does and then go and repeat the mistake again?

  25. Robert,

    I disagree with you about a key element of the privacy concerns regarding sharing Zuckerberg's email.

    Specifically… I believe that when you're a blogger, especially one like yourself who regularly ventures into the news realm, it's contingent on the other person involved, when responding to anything “newsy”, to say “off the record…” or “anonymously speaking…” or “you didn't hear this from me, but…” , just like they might with a reporter.

    Also, when you look at privacy law, public, newsworthy figures are presumed to have fewer rights to privacy, especially if they are speaking in regards to their company. See http://www.thenewsmanual.net/Manuals%20Volume%2

    That, really, is why I find the Steve Jobs email exchange with Ryan Tate, a writer for Gawker, to be a non-issue. He responded back to an employee at a major online media site. In 2009, Gawker Media was estimated to be worth $300 million, with $60 million in advertising revenues and more than $30 million in operating profit. (http://247wallst.com/2009/11/10/the-twenty-five… )

    So really, it's not even a case where we're asking “Is blogging journalism” anymore. The numbers speak for themselves.

    The fact is, when you are the CEO of a major corporation, you need to be aware that you're a public figure. In my opinion, there is no way that Steve Jobs of all people couldn't or shouldn't be aware of that fact. It's another good reason why big businesses hire PR people.

    It's great and empowering for the public to hear directly from the CEOs… until they inevitably put their foot in it… at which point there's really no way for anyone else to undo whatever damage may have been done. Like politicians, the best CEOs find ways of appearing very frank, spontaneous, honest, and concerned about their customers… without going against message.

  26. Socble Mr Jobs is using the public's desire for missives form him ot do viral pr by respoding to an email that he will know will be made public..large difference between that your communication with the CEO of facebook..wake up!

  27. I assume you've already got similar releases from all of your gchat contacts, to post a screenshot indicating whether they were online or not at 1:27pm today.

    1. Good point, Jon.

      Maybe Daniel Brusilovsky doesn’t want the world to know when he’s online.

      He’s still a minor, so there might be a law against disclosing this information to the world with or without his permission (http://danielbru.com/).

  28. If only Facebook would show such consideration before making our private information public and then burying/removing the privacy settings for it. And in the interest of full disclosure, why not release the entire email thread? Why the secrecy if you really think the world will be a better place by being perfectly transparent about everything?

    Also, why are the profiles of most Facebook execs (Schrage, Sandberg, etc.) fairly locked down? They seem to be talking the talk about rolling back privacy to make the world a better, more transparent place, but when it comes to their own actual profiles, they aren’t walking the walk.

  29. Your care is certainly commendable in general — but that particular e-mail appears clearly to anyone as an exception. I'm surprised it doesn't look so to you, but that candor explains most of your success.

    Better safe than sorry, especially when you communicate with someone with excellent inbox hygiene.

  30. Scoble,

    If a tech CEO writes you about “that hottie at the BigDataCo party last night” — well, yeah, that's wrong (talking about a women like that is wrong, and mentioning it here too…) After one month of intensive blog-slapping, having a stellar CEO who made his career on Breaking thinks [include link to his profile with public link to an eponymous Page here] and apologizing soon afterwards, having the guy come back and say: we are working on it, please submit your ideas, that's not just one-full-day-on-top-of-TechMeme-worthy blog post, that's “Guys, we need you to help with the mess”-worthy.

    Now that know they listen, I am tempted to pool in — well, if that post wasn't months-old already, I would be tempted to write it. If you missed it: make Friend-list-based filtering for every information (*including* Friends), every terminal including mobile and make is one-click-enabled (except for me who has sixty of such groups).

    Honestly, if it weren't you, I would have expected something closer to “what m*ron takes so long to send that e-mail?” but the timing actually seems right: just once the big non-geeky news start to make sense of the situation. God, this guy is good.

    I think there is a tremendous lesson in entrepreneurship to be learned from “I’d like to show an improved product rather than just talk about things we might do.” (if Facebook is worth anything in six months, which seems increasingly likely).

    Given the current situation, care is important, but I don't think that many CEOs have been unclear, or felt betrayed about company-related issue. Do you have any situation in mind? Honest mistakes, ambiguous leaks, friendly NDA that weren't respected?

    1. Why is it wrong to refer to a woman as a “hottie”? Keep your PC bullshit to yourself.

      1. Because we rather like being appreciated for more than our hotness.
        If we are hot, that is obviously why we got the job, not through anything known as competence.
        It has taken us years to be respected (and as a female tech in IT, it’s still a challenge at times).

        I have a sense of humor, but this is a bit like picking at an old wound for many of us, even if it isn’t meant to come off that way.

  31. Hypothetical question here: Let's say Zuckerburg replied with “No, you can't republish this. In fact, why would you mention to the general public that this e-mail conversation even exists?”

  32. I never understood why bloggers always feel it's fine to post steves emails. I'm hoping he writes me back sometime but I would never publish it, regardless of how juicy it might seem.

  33. The problem with Facebook has been that a lot of services that should have been “opt-in” have been made “opt-out”. The same analogy applies for e-mail also. Unless Zuck or Jobs opt to make their e-mail public, you can't assume that their email conversations are public.
    Good thought Robert.

  34. The problem with Facebook has been that a lot of services that should have been “opt-in” have been made “opt-out”. The same analogy applies for e-mail also. Unless Zuck or Jobs opt to make their e-mail public, you can't assume that their email conversations are public.
    Good thought Robert.

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