Let’s start with the money shot:
“Mr. Zuckerberg goes to great lengths to protect the privacy of his personal life.”
That quote — from one of Mark Zuckerberg’s lawyers — was included in a recent lawsuit covered by the NYT’s always excellent Matt Richtel. It turns out that certain wealthy individuals require those who work on their homes (and therefore become aware of certain details of their private lives) to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). For most of us in the Internet business, such NDAs are usually associated with deals, negotiations, or pitches that include the sharing of sensitive technical details.
One rarely associates NDAs with the guy who installs your hardwood floors. And, it should be noted, that there’s often very little upside to signing an NDA. As a seed investor in tech deals, I categorically refuse to sign them. I don’t share secrets, but I still see little advantage of putting myself at risk of a lawsuit if someone thinks I did. I’m not enough of an expert on the hardwood installation game or the kitchen tile business to assess the risk, but if someone in that industry asked me for feedback, I’d argue against signing the document.
Yet, it seems such signage is quite common. And the demand for such NDAs often is made by someone — and we’re not just talking about famous founders — who works for a tech company. And not just any tech companies, but the very ones that suggest (in public statements and in product design) that the path to our utopian salvation is marked at nearly every turn by the transparency enabled and encouraged by their wares.
So what are we to make of learning that the merchants of transparency are going to extreme lengths to keep us from knowing that it’s walnut under their kitchen chairs when they sit down for a family dinner, and oak that lines the floors of their kids’ bedrooms, and that sustainable bamboo is the surface material beneath the stand-up desk on which they type out less and less prohibitive iterations of their corporate privacy policies?
Here’s exactly what we should make of it…
They are right.
They are right to want privacy. They are right to want to keep their personal lives walled off from anyone from nosy neighbors to potential thieves to, well, Matt Richtel. They should lock their doors and lock down their information. They are right not to want you to know where they live, with whom they live, or how much they spend. They’re right that it’s a bummer that we all know how much our friends, neighbors, and strangers paid for their homes. They’re right to want to plug a cork in the social media champagne bottle we’ve shaken up in our blind celebration of glass houses.
Tint the glass. Pull the curtains. And, if possible, get a promise of secrecy from the people who did the tinting and hung the curtains.
They are right not to want to toss the floor planks that represent their last hint of personal privacy into the social media wood chipper. They are right in their unwillingness to give in to the seeming inevitability of the Internet sharing machine. Do you really think it’s a coincidence that most of the buttons you press on the web are labeled with the word submit?
The folks who have hit it big in the tech business don’t submit because it’s crazy to submit. They see through the transparency. No one knows the prizes and pitfalls of this era better than they do. Yes, there is an almost hilarious hypocrisy of seeing marketers of the message that information wants to be free as they sit on the porch with a shotgun telling you kids to get off their lawn.
But don’t focus on the hypocrisy. Focus on the fact that they’re still right. It’s their goddamn lawn. Their business is their business. And yours is yours.
So you should follow their lead. Don’t do what they say. Do what they do.
Or better yet, do what they NDA.