A recurrent theme in stories about Facebook is the privilege which Mark Zuckerberg accords for himself which his radical transparency denies for others. My favourite example had been the opaque meeting room hidden away at the back of his glass fronted office, allowing him to retreat into privacy while everyone around him stands exposed. But this example from Roger McNamee’s Zucked loc 2955 is even better:

One particularly awkward story that week revealed that Facebook had been deleting Zuck’s Messenger messages from the inboxes of recipients, a feature not available to users. Facebook initially claimed it made the change for security purposes, but that was patently unbelievable, so the next day it announced plans to extend the “unsend” feature to users.

I just came across this fascinating article, now 10 years old, detailing how former Google CEO Eric Schmidt cut off relations with CNET after a reporter  there had the temerity to detail the information she was able to find out about him via Google:

Last month, Elinor Mills, a writer for CNET News, a technology news Web site, set out to explore the power of search engines to penetrate the personal realm: she gave herself 30 minutes to see how much she could unearth about Mr. Schmidt by using his company’s own service. The resulting article, published online at CNET’s News.com under the sedate headline “Google Balances Privacy, Reach,” was anything but sensationalist. It mentioned the types of information about Mr. Schmidt that she found, providing some examples and links, and then moved on to a discussion of the larger issues. She even credited Google with sensitivity to privacy concerns.

When Ms. Mills’s article appeared, however, the company reacted in a way better suited to a 16th-century monarchy than a 21st-century democracy with an independent press. David Krane, Google’s director of public relations, called CNET.com’s editor in chief to complain about the disclosure of Mr. Schmidt’s private information, and then Mr. Krane called back to announce that the company would not speak to any reporter from CNET for a year.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/28/business/digital-domain-google-anything-so-long-as-its-not-google.html?_r=0

At some point, I’ll collate all the cases like this I can find: it’s grimly fascinating to watch digital elites react with anger to the transparency they seek to impose on everyone else. In this case Schmidt seems to be rather averse to the assumptions about transparency that Google have long sought to inculcate in their users. From pg 177-178 of In The Plex:

Omitting a delete button was supposed to teach you to view email—and information itself—the way Google did. The implicit message was that the only thing that should be deleted was the concept of limited storage. Not everybody at Google subscribed to this philosophy—Eric Schmidt had long before instituted a personal practice of making his emails “go away as quickly as possible” unless specifically asked to retain them.

From pg 178 of the same book, concerning how Google see privacy organisations. Note how the epistemic asymmetry, in terms of access to and understanding of internal technical processes, allows criticism to be dismissed: 

To most people at Google, though, automatic archiving was a cause for celebration, and gripes from privacy do-gooders were viewed as misguided or even cynically—exploiting a phony issue for their own status and fund-raising. “Even to this day, I’ll read people saying that Google keeps your [deleted] email forever. Like, totally false stuff!” says Buchheit. Buchheit called his critics “fake privacy organizations” because in his mind “they were primarily interested in getting attention for themselves and were going around telling lies about things.”

One final snippet from The Boy Kings, by Katherine Losse, that I can’t resist posting. It seems that Mark Zuckerberg has a secret back room in his private Facebook office, allowing him to retreat into opacity while sustaining the glass fronted and open plan layout of the corporate offices:

Mark’s office sat adjacent to our pod, with its secret back room (for especially important meetings, because the front room of his office had a glass window onto the hallway that made meetings transparent) hidden behind a wallpapered door and a single table illuminated by a Mad Men –style modern lamp, receiving a constant stream of celebrities and tech luminaries and wealthy Russians in silk suits. (Pg 196)

This is the same Zuckerberg who bought four homes adjacent to his in order to ensure his own privacy. His own power dramatically illustrates the politics of transparency and opacity in digital capitalism. We can see this even more dramatically in the private retreats of the digital elites: if transparency gets tiring, why not just head off to your super yacht or Hawaii estate for a while? As Zuckerberg describes it, quoted on pg 198: “We are pushing the world in the direction of making it a more open and transparent place, this is where the world is going and at Facebook we need to lead in that direction.” The key terms here are pushing and lead. The pushers and the leaders are able to take a break when they’d like, without worrying about someone else perpetually trying to push and lead them.

I think this could be analysed in a similar way to how Bauman explored mobility in his work on globalisation: those at the bottom of the hierarchy are transparent because they lack the resources to escape the filter bubble, while those at the top of the hierarchy are usually transparent as a function of their own commercial success. But one condition is forced, leaving the people in question susceptible to manipulation, while the latter is chosen and can be voluntarily withdrawn from in private life.