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Facebook and the Government: Can They Ever Login and Be Friends? (Full Story)
Comments () | Published June 6, 2011
Think about it this way: The Internet is, in many ways, based in the United States. Google is here. And Google is the biggest online power. Facebook is here, and its 500 million users are spread all over the world (more than 100 million are in the United States). As both fans and critics of the company like to point out, if Facebook were a country, it would be the world's third-most populous. And Facebook nation would prefer not to have dozens of different privacy treaties all around the world. Though Facebook officials are careful how they phrase it, what the company wants is one privacy standard all over the globe.

Is that going to happen? No one can be sure. "This is an area that is still new, and people are actively discussing what the world should look like in that regard," says Marne Levine. "We're still rather small, and we don't have a footprint around the world in terms of our policy front. But 70 percent of our growth comes from outside the US, so we have a vested interest in what other countries are doing in terms of regulation or legislation or their principles."

For Levine, Facebook is still new. She left the Obama administration to join the company in the middle of last year. Also on her résumé: two years as chief of staff to Harvard president Lawrence Summers. The same Lawrence Summers who is depicted in the film The Social Network as shooting down twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss's efforts to discipline Mark Zuckerberg, who the twins say crafted Facebook out of their idea. Levine wasn't working for Summers when that happened, but she was attending Harvard's MBA program when Zuckerberg was still running through the quad in his Adidas sandals. (Another Facebook/Summers connection: Sheryl Sandberg, the company's chief operating officer, was Summers's chief of staff when he was Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration.)

"Marne is a very, very practiced, smart, veteran Washington thinker who, from what I understand, is very well respected," says David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, a thorough account of the company's history that, unfortunately for him, did not get turned into an Oscar-winning film. Kirkpatrick met with both Sheryl Sandberg and Marne Levine at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year. He says it's clear that Sandberg, Levine, and Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of global communications, marketing, and public policy, are the leaders at headquarters on political policy.

Facebook's DC office is also in frequent communication with Randi Zuckerberg, Mark's sister, whose role includes marketing duties and setting strategy on US elections and "social change." After the 2009 earthquake in Haiti, she helped implement a plan by the company's Washington staff to establish a page where Facebook users could connect with dozens of relief agencies. That evolved into Facebook's Global Disaster Relief page, which now has 500,000 fans.

Randi's brother isn't as in touch with the Washington office. Mark Zuckerberg has made just one public appearance in Washington. He donned a tie last year to meet with members of Congress, including Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch. In February, he dressed up again for a private dinner with President Obama and more than a dozen tech-business leaders in Woodside, California.

But author Kirkpatrick, who knows Facebook as well as anyone outside the company does, says Zuckerberg is involved in setting Facebook's policy agenda. "Mark is a very, very mature 27-year-old," Kirkpatrick says. "Nobody ought to take the distorted account in The Social Network as indicative of what kind of person is leading Facebook today. He is an extraordinarily smart, strategic, methodical leader."

Next: How Facebook makes billions every year


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Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 06/06/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Articles