Mark Zuckerberg's moment of truth

Mark Zuckerberg's moment of truth
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Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach Social media never intended to be in the news business — but just wait till AI takes over Facebook exploring deals with media outlets for news section: report MORE is one of the most brilliant and wealthy young men in the world and a leader of a technology sector that is changing our lives in ways that are both positive and dangerous for business, democracy and human rights.

Zuckerberg now stands at the center of events that require him to make profound choices that will have extraordinary consequences for his company and the world.

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Until now, Zuckerberg’s response to the national security crisis of our times has been too little, too late and too slow, but there is still time to change course and serve his company and the nation well.

 

The growing controversies surrounding the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are only the beginning of a great debate with enormous consequences for our democratic way of life.

The possibility of collusion, conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica and Russian operatives is almost certainly part of the investigation of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE, which may or may not find wrongdoing. 

It's not a far-fetched notion to think China, Iran, North Korea and other nations are preparing their own attacks against our democracy that could turn future elections into farcical fiascos.

There is enormous risk and enormous opportunity for Zuckerberg, Facebook and other leaders of the technology world in the way they manage issues that are now front-page news across America and throughout the world.

The first issue is democracy, which is under attack from dictatorships that weaponize personal information in efforts to support allies or destroy opponents. The second issue is the wholesale destruction and elimination of personal privacy, which is becoming one of the most powerful political and business issues of our times.

Zuckerberg, Facebook’s management and investors and the leadership and ownership of all similar technology companies should understand that doing what is right for America and democracy will also be right for the financial success of their companies.

There is a commonality of interest, not a conflict of interest, between Zuckerberg’s duty as a patriotic American and Zuckerberg’s duty to investors and employees of Facebook.

It would be far better if these companies would immediately begin very aggressive self-regulation, to avoid excessive government regulation that will surely come if private firms do not act soon.

The evisceration and destruction of personal privacy is one of the great scandals of modern life, which affects every citizen of every democracy and every dictatorship.

Big Brother is watching us, whether Big Brother is government weaponizing our personal information to control our behavior, political campaigns weaponizing our personal information to influence how we vote or business weaponizing our personal information to persuade us to buy the products and services they sell.

Aren’t you fed up with being asked to read lengthy legalistic disclosures in small print that are impossible to decipher but constitute the surrender of privacy that should be protected, instead, by a clear new privacy bill of rights? 

Memo to Zuckerberg and other technology leaders: Any company that develops the reputation of failing to protect the privacy of its users will face a powerful backlash from its users and a decline in market valuation of their companies.

Conversely, if Zuckerberg and leaders of similar companies — or new competitors seeking to take away their business — develop the reputation of being champions of the privacy of their users, their companies will reap a huge financial reward in expanded business and rising market valuations.

The smart, just move for Zuckerberg is to show industry leadership by practicing radical transparency by fully cooperating with investigators, disclosing all facts of interest to customers and leading the charge for a full-scale new bill of rights for the privacy of all internet users.  

What is right for America is right for Facebook.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.