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Government surveillance stifles innovation, says Randi Zuckerberg

January 17th, 2014
10:53 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Making people feel like they are under surveillance is “one of the worst things you can do to stifle innovation,” Randi Zuckerberg – former Facebook marketing director and sister of its founder, Mark – told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

“These companies are all free,” Zuckerberg said. “All they have is the trust of their users…As soon as people don't trust the platforms, they're not using it, they're off to the next one and everyone loses.”

From her perspective as a mother, however, she suggested government surveillance was not all bad.

“As a mom who wants to protect children online, there could definitely be some benefits,” she said.

The uproar at home and abroad over Edward Snowden's NSA leaks have led U.S. President Barack Obama to seek some reforms to the surveillance state – reforms demanded by, among many others, America's technology giants like Facebook, Google, and Apple.

Few people are as qualified to talk about the issue as Randi Zuckerberg, who was at Facebook from its toddler days – making her the closest thing to techno-royalty.

Digital privacy is an increasingly common fixture of the national dialogue in the United States, and not just because of the government’s activity.

Companies like Facebook and Google are increasingly partnering with (and purchasing) companies with an eye towards gathering as much data about our lives – on and offline – as possible.

“We know that when we open up Google Maps, we know when we open up different things, that we are giving data to these companies,” Zuckerberg said. “But on the other hand, these services, they make our lives so better.”

“There’s always this line that’s being tip-toed where we say, okay, we’re enjoying a free service, so we understand there has to be some monetization that goes on where there. Is the monetization making my life better, or is it making my experience horrible?”

With all that data on hand, some worry that a security breach could expose huge amounts of private information.

“It's definitely always a risk,” Zuckerberg said. “I mean, we just heard about Target, the huge breach financially with 40 million people who were affected.”

Privacy, she said, is the responsibility of both the companies and their users.

“I think we have to be conscious that any time we're putting any information online that there's always a risk, there's always a chance, and we all have to have our own backup plan there.”

Amanpour asked Zuckerberg whether technology companies would ever consider limiting the amount of personal information they hold.

She suggested that that could perhaps be the case in countries “where the government is paying closer attention to what people are saying, where people don't have the same rights of freedom of speech” – but not so much in America.

“I conducted a whole study,” she said, “and what we found is in the U.S. people are actually the least concerned of anywhere in the world that we surveyed about their safety online, their trust, their data.”

Since leaving Facebook, Zuckerberg’s message has taken a surprising turn: the internet generation needs to unplug, or at least a bit.

She has started her own lifestyle company and written two books about navigating the digital universe: “Dot Complicated,” for adults, and just plain “Dot,” for children.

“I know it seems ironic, but I'm trying to help people understand is that we have to use technology mindfully,” she said.

“We get so enthralled with these devices that you almost forget to look up and invest in the relationships around you.”

The name “Zuckerberg,” of course, is now known the world over as being nearly synonymous with the technological elite.

So what is it like navigating the professional, and tech world, with that name?

“I think the last name for me has been much more of a glass half full,” she said. “Being a part of a family that's really synonymous with the American dream – it's amazing, you know, just the conversations that it's enabled me to have.”

“But of course there are challenges, being in Silicon Valley – it's living under a very big shadow, and there are challenges there.”

MORE: Navigating Silicon Valley as a woman – and a Zuckerberg

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Tech
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Alpha umaru Jalloh

    Indeed, privacy is in the hands of the companies and users, the internet needs to be democratically surveillance

    January 20, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  2. tipsglobe

    Everything she said is not acceptable because parents need to be more concern about child internet safety @via

    January 21, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Reply
  3. Terence Hale

    Mark Zuckerberg 'confused and frustrated' by US spying. The civilized world understands Mr. Zuckerberg over Mr. Obama’s inverted pyramid way of doing things starting with the world to get to a point confusing occurrence and probability. Mr. Zuckerberg a young America who has changed to world in which people communicate is pulled back by Mr. Obama, if the Russian’s did this he would send troops and ships to the Black sea.

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