Roger McNamee doesn’t hate Facebook. He just thinks it can do much, much better.
As a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and early mentor and investor in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, McNamee now says the social media platform has worked harder toward its public relations image than it has at curing its user privacy issues.
It’s a subject McNamee covered in both his recently published book, “Zucked,” and at a South by Southwest panel Sunday with Wired magazine editor Nicholas Thompson.
“When I first met Mark (Zuckerberg), he was 22,” McNamee said. “When Mark came to seem me, I already was convinced that Facebook was the next big thing. I didn’t even have it in my head that Facebook could go bad.”
Four days ago, Facebook announced it is shifting toward a more private messaging model with encrypted communications among groups of people instead of the public posts its platform has been known for.
Facebook’s lack of user protection has for years been at the core of critics' calls to dismantle the platform.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence officials have highlighted how the Russian government used the social media platform to try to spread misinformation. Since then, Facebook’s target advertising models have been in question, with the company revealing as recently as September that hackers exposed the personal information of nearly 50 million users.
While Facebook’s new privacy strategy seems bold, it doesn’t solve the company’s underlying problem, McNamee said. The issue, he said, is not with Facebook’s social media model, but in its core business model -- that of selling user data to third-party companies.
In a blog written by Zuckerberg announcing the new policy, the chief executive barely discussed how the company could become more private without hurting its primary money maker.
“What are they doing with the tracking (of information)?” McNamee said. “I don't want them buying my credit card history. I don't want them buying my location data for my cell phone carrier. We're better than this."
McNamee's criticism of big tech, however, goes beyond Facebook. (He says he still has a Facebook account). Amazon, Google and Microsoft pose bigger threats than the social media company, McNamee said, because “Facebook has been clumsy enough to have been caught. But the other guys have been much more clever” in not exposing their weak points.
McNamee, who also serves as an adviser the Center for Humane Technology, has been working with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, on a proposal to break up the most influential tech companies.
Warren’s idea is to dismantle the subsidiaries of companies such as Google and Facebook, which include YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp, in order to take power away from the companies. It also seeks to untangle the marketplaces of Amazon and others by taking aim at self-owned competitors in the marketplace such as Amazon Basics, which McNamee said negatively affects the merchants Amazon receives business from.
McNamee is unsure if that power shift can happen, but on Sunday he called on elected officials to make it their focus.
People are finally beginning to hold big tech accountable, McNamee said.
Tech executives are being questioned at congressional hearings. Users are abandoning social media. And protesters are taking to streets against Amazon and others.
“The issue is not that your data is out there, " McNamee said. But rather, what companies are doing with that data. “We need to decide what’s OK, and we need to do it together.”