Facebook executive leverages friends in Attorney General bid

There are 7 million Democrats in California. About 5 million of them will be on Facebook by the time the state elects a new attorney general one year from now.

That could be helpful for Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly, who is one of six candidates vying for the job. His campaign website is painted with Facebook’s characteristic blue and displays his status messages as he travels around California.

ADVERTISEMENT
He’s on full-time leave from the company to fundraise and campaign ahead of the June primary, but he still had time to swing through Washington this week to speak at a privacy workshop at the Department of Commerce (he’s still a consultant for Facebook) and attend a fundraiser at the Wilmer Hale law firm thrown by several of Kelly’s old friends from the Clinton administration. On Friday, he’ll attend an event with Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.

Kelly isn’t new to campaigning and the attorney general job. Kelly joined Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and was later an adviser for the White House Domestic Policy Council. He then returned to Silicon Valley and joined Facebook in 2005, just as it was starting to take off on college campuses. While there, he worked with all 50 attorneys general to create new safety features for younger social network users.

He acknowledges his background at such a prominent company has made him more recognizable to voters as “the Facebook guy,” but said he isn’t trying to push the social networking aspect of his campaign too much, despite the platform’s success in a certain high-profile national election last year.

“Facebook is what I’m known for, so I might as well embrace it,” he said over coffee. “But I haven’t wanted to run a Facebook campaign. I haven’t wanted to goose it to drive high numbers,” he said, referring to the number of his fans, of which there are currently 2,345.

“You have to appreciate that the cadence of a campaign is just as important online as it is off-,” he said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

He’s built up some strong relationships in Congress, having spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill over the past four years, testifying at privacy and security hearings and, in some cases, teaching members how to use social networks to reach their constituents. (During a House hearing last summer, I saw him spend a break showing a few staffers how to adjust the privacy settings on their Facebook profiles.)

His Silicon Valley upbringing, he said, gives him a unique perspective. “I’ve been used to a culture of innovation and high expectations,” he said. “As I’ve grown fond of saying, we need to stop judging politicians on a curve. They need to do what they were elected to do.”

Bill Clinton, who was attorney general of Arkansas before becoming governor, has been generous with advice. “He told me attorney general is probably the best job in politics,” Kelly said, because it is less beholden to the state legislature than are other offices.

Kelly hasn’t taken a complete break from privacy policy — he said he’s been active in conversations about potential legislation being drafted by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). He thinks Web users are starting to better understand how social networks interact with consumer data and advertisers.

“There’s beginning to be an expectation for users to be more responsible online,” he said. “You can’t create a perfectly safe world. You can’t put a cop on every street corner. It’s not financially feasible and it’s not the type of place people want to live.”

Appropriately, he lists identity theft and Internet safety as two of his top campaign issues.

ADVERTISEMENT
Kelly isn’t the only technology executive running for office in California. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (before she was publicly fired when the merger she engineered with Compaq did not go smoothly), formally announced Wednesday that she will try to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Fiorina, a Republican, was the chief economic adviser to Rep. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign.



Google unveils new data dashboard

Facebook isn’t the only Internet company worried about privacy legislation. Google is trying to show it can be more transparent about collecting consumer data, even without new laws requiring such action.

Boucher has said he wants privacy legislation to require Internet companies to tell consumers exactly what kind of personal information is being collected about them and how it is being used. On Thursday, Google rolled out a new tool — a dashboard, Google calls it — that is supposed to show consumers all of the data the company stores about them.

The dashboard, at www.google.com/dashboard, summarizes information associated with users’ Google account and directs them to links about personal and privacy settings for every product, including Gmail and Picasa.

By being more open with consumers about its data-collection process, Google is hoping to prove it is proactively transparent about how it uses data for advertising purposes.