Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know how most of Facebook works. He gets the engineering part of it, the development and design of it all, but when it comes to the company’s primary purpose — selling ads — he couldn’t seem to care less. That is until recently, of course, when Facebook’s pile of scandals finally grew too big to ignore and Congress came a-calling.
Zuck basically said as much to Wired’s Steven Levy Monday evening, in an interview published hours before he would take the stage for F8:
"I figured other product questions that came up, I'd be able to answer, because I built our product," he says. That was overly optimistic.
"One of my takeaways was that I actually felt like I didn't understand all the details [on things like] how we were using external data on our ad system, and I wasn't okay with that, he says. "On the plane ride back, I scheduled a meeting. I was like, "I'm going to sit down with this team and learn exactly all this stuff that I didn't know." The result of that remedial education was an option for users to cut that information loose. [Emphasis mine.]
While these sort of comments might be fine coming from Mark Zuckerberg, the college whiz-kid who whipped up a website in his dorm room, they’re absolutely infuriating coming out of the mouth of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of one of the biggest tech companies in the world. He admits that he doesn’t know how a huge part of his business works — using outside data to power Facebook’s ad system — with the same nonchalant tone you’d use to mention you forgot how to do your taxes.
And here he’s specifically talking about not knowing these key facts during ten hours of congressional hearings about Facebook’s ineptitudes when it comes to ensuring data privacy and user transparency on things like advertising. Zuck had actual weeks to prepare for this and still managed to be ignorant.
Former Facebook product manager, Antonio Garcia Martinez, may have the answer. In an interview with Noah Kulwin for Select All, Martinez guessed that lack of interest probably played a role.
“At the exec level, it might just be a function of the fact that he doesn’t know too much about ads, and when I say that it sounds horrible, but I don’t mean it in a necessarily critical way,” Martinez told Select All. “Zuck has famously never been very interested in either money or revenue of the company. Obviously he understands that it’s a necessary evil, but it’s the sort of thing that he just outsources to Sheryl and whatever lieutenants that are taking care of the ad system.”
Zuck has voting control over Facebook’s board, so It’s not like his job as CEO is in jeopardy, and there are certainly a fleet of people within Facebook who do actually know and care about ads. It’s just ironic that Zuck, who is not only in charge of the company’s business but has also taken on the task of being its empathetic face, posting about meaningful interactions and connecting with the heartland, manages to invest so little time in effort in the parts of it that material affect the users he purports to care so much about.