Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg gripes to Obama about NSA. Why the dislike?

Broadly speaking, Mark Zuckerberg knows that Facebook risks becoming collateral damage of the public debate over NSA surveillance activities, given that people use Facebook to store and share sensitive personal information. But he may have had a more specific beef.

Manu Fernandez/AP/File
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg during a conference in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 24, 2014. Zuckerberg called President Obama to say that he's 'confused and frustrated' by reports of the NSA spying on the Internet.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg says he has complained directly to President Obama that he’s “confused and frustrated” by reports of National Security Agency (NSA) spying on the Internet.

In a post on his Facebook page (duh) on Thursday, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote that the Net is the world’s shared space and that trust in its security is a necessary condition for keeping it strong. He said that’s why Facebook itself uses encryption and secure protocols, among other things, to try to protect user privacy.

“The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst,” wrote Zuckerberg.

After noting that he’d called the commander in chief personally to express these opinions, the social media billionaire added that he’s not optimistic he’ll get quick action.

“Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Why this explosion of angst? Zuckerberg does not say so, but it’s possible he was reacting to a specific new report about the NSA and Facebook in The Intercept, the new journalistic endeavor of former Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald.

Citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the piece describes how the NSA has used fake Facebook servers to infect target computers with malware. Though the full extent of the use of this tactic isn’t known, the NSA is capable of hitting “millions” of users who believe they are logging into Facebook but are actually connecting to government-controlled computers.

More broadly, Zuckerberg surely knows Facebook risks becoming collateral damage of the public debate launched by Mr. Snowden’s activities. As the all-purpose go-to of social sites, its entire business model revolves around people using it to store and share sensitive personal information, notes Gregory Ferenstein at TechCrunch. If Facebookers think NSA techs are scrolling through their vacation pictures, the whole thing could come crashing down.

“Perhaps more than any of the other tech giants, Facebook depends on the premise of trust and privacy, even though the social network has a shaky past in those areas,” writes Mr. Ferenstein.

Ah, but will Zuckerberg’s complaints make any difference? That’s a juicy question in political terms.

Some label him somewhat hypocritical here, due to the “shaky past” referenced above. Facebook exists to suck up that personal information, package aspects of it, and market it to advertisers. In that sense, it may represent a new invasion of personal space in its own right.

“Zuckerberg, who has previously said that privacy is no longer a ‘social norm,’ makes an odd spokesman for the safeguarding of information,” writes Kevin Roose at New York magazine’s “Daily Intelligencer."

He is, however, a billionaire capitalist who can get the president of the United States on the phone. That sort of personal lobbying counts for something. Plus, he’s not really speaking just for himself and his company. Silicon Valley is surely nervous that the NSA revelations will rebound against US tech generally, with users perhaps seeking foreign-based alternatives to such firmly American brands as Google, Facebook, and so forth. That’s a huge growth industry for any country that wants to own the 21st-century economy.

Zuckerberg himself does not seem to line up with one party or the other. He has backed a pro-immigration reform group but also reportedly held a fundraiser for Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

Still, he might be a good sort of person to approach a president who seems immersed in popular tech culture to the extent of appearing on a “Funny or Die” Web-based fake talk show.

“A Facebook post by a 20-something billionaire seems like the perfect place to call out the President Between Two Ferns,” writes right-leaning blogger Mary Katharine Ham on "Hot Air."

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