This Big Facebook Critic Fears Tech’s Business Model


Longtime Silicon Valley investor Roger McNamee met Mark Zuckerberg in 2006, when the Facebook CEO was simply 22 and his two-year-old firm nonetheless solely catered to school college students. Facebook was younger, however McNamee was already satisfied it was “the next big thing,” he informed WIRED editor in chief Nicholas Thompson on Sunday throughout a keynote dialog at SXSW 2019 in Austin. “The thing that had killed every attempt at social apps before that [was] essentially that the ability to be anonymous allowed trolls to take over. I was convinced that Mark’s requirement of authenticated identity was literally the holy grail, it was the thing that was going to unlock this opportunity.”

There was no funding alternative on the time; McNamee seen their assembly as a technique to supply recommendation—and an opportunity “to meet the young guy who had figured [social networks] out.” As McNamee admits, “I didn’t even have it in my head that a thing like Facebook could go bad. I was a technology optimist like everybody else.”

In the decade-plus since that first assembly, McNamee, who went on to spend money on Facebook, has turn out to be a vocal critic of the corporate. In truth, he’s the latest writer of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, a guide the place the subtitle alone drives house simply how a lot McNamee’s view on the corporate has modified.

McNamee defined the arc of his view. Early within the 2000s, the burgeoning corporations of Web 2.0, like Google, Paypal, and Facebook, started “blitz-scaling.” And as they shortly grew, they operated from a unique worth system, McNamee mentioned, which mainly mentioned “none of us is responsible for the disruptions that we create.” The founders of those corporations collected a great deal of private information to gasoline their very own development and income and thought it was OK. “I don’t think that in prior generations of Silicon Valley, people would have thought that way,” McNamee mentioned. “These people are brilliant, and I have enormous admiration for what they created; I just wish we could have created it without some of the business model characteristics that are causing the harm.”

McNamee nonetheless owns Facebook inventory (and has a Facebook account), he says, so that folks don’t assume he’s trashing the corporate as a result of he bought his curiosity in it. “Look, I understand I’m not the perfect messenger,” he mentioned. “What I ask people to do is just think about the message. And understand this isn’t really about Facebook.”

McNamee mentioned his issues started with Facebook as a result of he is aware of it finest, “but this is a problem that is endemic in a world where the business model is about tracking human beings, claiming eminent domain on their personal data, using it for behavioral prediction, and then using the tools of machine learning and AI to steer people toward outcomes that make those predictions more valuable.”

McNamee mentioned he’s particularly involved as a result of customers, and society, haven’t had an opportunity to debate whether or not corporations ought to collect info and revenue from individuals’s monetary transactions, well being information, or location. “That may be fine, but all of that business model developed behind a curtain,” he mentioned. “We didn’t know that’s what was going on. And there’s a lot of history that says that’s a model that we don’t want.”

Asked about Elizabeth Warren’s latest proposal to interrupt up the large tech corporations, McNamee referred to as it “brilliant.” In response to a different query, McNamee mentioned he’s advising Warren’s workforce, in addition to consulting with the campaigns of two different Democratic presidential candidates, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker.

McNamee mentioned numerous different points, together with the professionals and cons of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, the deepening divide between America and China’s tech spheres, and the issues he sees with Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

But ultimately, the dialog got here again to Facebook and its enterprise mannequin. An viewers member requested if Zuckerberg ought to step down. “No,” McNamee mentioned emphatically. “I don’t think this is about the people. I believe that this is about the business model. Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] at Google and Sheryl [Sandberg] and Mark at Facebook have the moral authority to change the business model. If you don’t change the business model, it doesn’t matter who’s running it, and if you do change the business model, it’s OK whoever’s running it.”


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