Misuse of data, personalized advertising, fake news and hate-filled posts: Facebook is the target of strong criticism around the world. Now, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is addressing the critique on ZEIT ONLINE. Previously, he has generally chosen to post his comments on Facebook.
This op-ed will be appearing in German on our website and concurrently in English in the Wall Street Journal. Other European media outlets will also be publishing the op-ed in their country's language.
Next month, Facebook turns 15. When I started Facebook, I wasn't trying to build a global company. Back then, I realized you could find almost anything on the internet – music, books, information – except for the thing that matters most: people. So I built a service that people could use to connect and learn about each other. Over the years, billions of people have found this useful, and we've built more services that people around the world love and use every day.
Recently I've heard many questions about our business model, so I want to explain the principles of how we operate.
I believe everyone should have a voice and be able to connect. If we're committed to serving everyone, then we need a service that is affordable to everyone. The best way to do that is to offer services for free, which ads enable us to do.
People consistently tell us that if they're going to see ads, they want them to be relevant. That means we need to understand what they're interested in. So based on what pages people like, what they click on and more, we create categories – for example, people who like pages about gardening and live in Spain – and then charge advertisers to show ads to that category of people. While advertising to specific groups existed well before the internet, online advertising allows much more precise targeting and therefore more relevant ads.
Our model can feel opaque
The internet also allows us to offer far greater transparency and control over what ads you see than TV, radio or print. On our services, you have control over what information we use to show you ads, and you can block any advertiser from reaching you. You can find out why you're seeing an ad and change your preferences to get ads you're interested in. And you can use our transparency tools to see every different ad an advertiser is showing to anyone else.
Still, some are concerned about the complexity of this model. In a regular transaction, you pay a company for a product or service they provide. That's simple. But here you get to use our services for free – and we work separately with advertisers to show you relevant ads. This model can feel opaque, and we're all inherently distrustful of systems we don't understand.
Sometimes this means people assume we do things that we don't do. For example, we don't sell people's data, even though it's often reported that we do. In fact, selling people's information to advertisers would be counter to our business interests, because it would reduce the unique value of our service to advertisers. We have a strong incentive to protect people's information from being accessed by anyone else.
Some people worry that ads create a misalignment of interests between us and people who use our products. I'm often asked if we have an incentive to increase engagement on Facebook because that creates more advertising real estate – even if it's not in people's best interests.
I want to be clear: We're very focused on helping people share and connect more, because the purpose of our service is to help people stay in touch with family, friends and communities. But from a business perspective, it's important that people's time is well spent or they won't use our services as much over the long term. Clickbait and other junk may drive engagement in the near term, but it would be foolish for us to intentionally show this because it's not what people want.