AUDIE CORNISH, host:
A world without Facebook really is hard to imagine, least of all for Mark Zuckerberg, the company's founder. This week, on the same day Facebook announced it passed the 500 million member mark, Zuckerberg sat down with Guy Raz, the regular host of this program.
They talked in front of a live audience at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. It's part of our series "The Net at 40."
GUY RAZ: No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg, knows how much Mark Zuckerberg is really worth. It's in the range of about five to $10 billion, at least on paper. But money isn't what motivates Mark Zuckerberg, and it's not what makes him or his company powerful.
The power comes from what Facebook sits atop. It's the largest database of personal information in the world that's not held by a government - information that you and I provided Facebook about our age, our spouses, our tastes in music and products; information we handed over voluntarily in exchange for getting to use this service for free.
Now, Facebook wants to de-emphasize this fact. The company doesn't want people up in arms over what it may or may not eventually do with that database. And when I asked Mark Zuckerberg about it, his message was simple: Trust us.
What happens in 10 years or 20 years or 30 years, and somebody in the company decides to take that data and sell that information? What kind of guarantee is there that that won't happen?
Mr. MARK ZUCKERBERG (CEO, Facebook.com): Well, I just think it would be the stupidest thing we could possibly do. I think it's really easy to say that there's all this information that Facebook has, or something like that. But really, what Facebook is today is this engine and this community of people sharing a lot of information on a day-to-day basis.
RAZ: Except that information was in a centralized...
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: The information that - well, actually, I think that that's maybe a misconception because the weight of information that people are sharing is increasing so quickly that the amount of content that people have in the system last year will be just a fraction of the content that's in the system at the end of this year. And it's going to keep on growing.
And not only are more people signing up to use the service - because they want to stay connected with friends and family - but every day that goes by, each person on the service - on average, are sharing more information into the system. And people can go, and they can take all their information anywhere else. What Facebook is isn't a set of information today; it's a community of people who are using Facebook to stay connected and share information. They're only going to do that as long as they trust us, and as long as we're the best tool that exists to do that.
RAZ: You've described Facebook as a utility, like the electric company, like the phone company. Why shouldn't it be regulated like utility? And if it is a utility, couldn't you make the argument that it's a monopoly?
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: When we got started, everyone compared us to MySpace. The big difference that we saw between ourselves and MySpace was that people used MySpace because it was cool and because it was fun. And people asked us this question all the time: What's going to happen when Facebook is no longer cool? My answer to that question is that our goal was never to build something cool, right? It was to build something useful.
So, to me, when I say utility, that's what I mean - is that we're trying to provide people with utility. In terms of regulation, I mean, we get regulated by users, right? I mean...
RAZ: Mm-hmm. And is that another thing?
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: I think like, there's plenty of dialogue around what we do and important issues that are going on, on the Internet. And you know, like I was just saying, we support this open platform, and we want to design it so that people can go, and they can take their information and go to any other service that they want.
RAZ: There's a fan page now up on Facebook for a film Facebook would prefer was never made. It's called "The Social Network," and it's based on a largely imagined - some say fictitious - account of how Mark Zuckerberg and a student at Harvard came up with the idea.
The film suggests he was motivated by getting girls, and that he may have even stolen the idea. It was written by Aaron Sorkin and includes such famous names as Justin Timberlake. I asked Zuckerberg if he plans to see it.
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: I mean, probably not.
RAZ: Do you have any anxiety about it coming out? Do you have any worries or concerns? Is it annoying?
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: Honestly, I wish that when people try to do journalism or write stuff about Facebook, that they at least try to get it right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: These guys were - decided to have this idea, all right, let's make a movie about Facebook. And they had two choices of books to base it on...
RAZ: I mean, just in his...
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: ...base it on a fiction book.
RAZ: In his - yeah.
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: And, you know, I mean...
RAZ: I mean, just in his defense, I mean, he did try to interview you for his book.
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: The reason why we didn't participate is because it was very clear that it was fiction - from the beginning. I mean, he basically told us, you know, what I'm most interested is in telling the most interesting story, right? And we want to make sure that we're never - that we never participate in something like that so then someone can take something that's really fictional and say, and we talked to Mark Zuckerberg for this.
You know, I think it's clear that it's fiction. All the book reviews of that book, from people who know it, say that it's fiction. The movie is based on the book. I don't really know how much else there is to say about it.
RAZ: Do you wish that Justin Timberlake was playing your character?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: You know, that really would not make a difference one way or another. The movie is fiction, and I think that's really the most important thing - and leave it at that.
RAZ: And you'll just - sort of let it go and hopefully, it'll pass.
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: Yeah, I mean, I really believe that all that we can do is focus on building the best thing. And that over time, people will remember us for what we build, right, and not what anyone said about us all along the way. And I mean, maybe that's idealistic. I mean, maybe I have to think that. But that's what I choose to focus on.
RAZ: Mark Zuckerberg calls Facebook a social utility. But in many ways, it's more like a virtual country with half a billion members, the third most populous country in the world.
But as Facebook has grown overseas, where most of its users now live, the company has also run into some problems dealing with foreign governments.
RAZ: As you know, in Pakistan, for some time, the government blocked Facebook. There was a page set up by somebody; it was called Submit Your Cartoons of Mohammed. I mean, are you ever worried that you might be sort of, you know, targeted by some group that feels, well, you know, you're in charge of this company and you haven't shut it down.
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: Well, actually, I think someone is trying to get me sentenced to death in Pakistan now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: That's not a joke.
RAZ: It's not a joke.
Mr. ZUCKERBERG: I mean, it might be funny, but it's not a joke. I mean, this is where, I think - you asked me before what you have to do to build something like this, and you have to really believe in what you're doing, right? I mean, we think that what we're doing is a really valuable thing in the world, and I hope I don't get killed.
CORNISH: That was Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, in an interview with Guy Raz, the host of this program. They spoke this past week at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, as part of our series "The Net at 40."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.