Facebook To Assemble Global Team Of ‘Diplomats’
With 70 percent of its more than 600 million members outside the United States, Facebook is creating its own foreign service, hiring a network of ambassadors from India to Ireland to represent the Palo Alto-based social network with foreign governments and cultures.
Facebook’s new global policy team will monitor the local political landscape and act as multilingual, TV-friendly communicators in countries and for cultures that, in many cases, have very different values and laws about privacy and personal communications than the U.S.
Facebook is confronting its emergence as a global organization whose membership is much larger than the population of most countries, and whose technology can antagonize both Middle Eastern dictators and European democracies fretful about privacy. The international directors of policy, as Facebook calls them, will grapple with those challenges.
“This is the right investment for us to make because we want to have better relationships with regulators and policymakers across Europe and around the world,” said Debbie Frost, a Facebook spokeswoman. “It’s important that we have a presence, so people can have a direct line into Facebook. You limit the scope for misunderstandings.”
As part of this effort, Facebook is hiring policy directors for the Middle East, Britain, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Germany, Central and Eastern Europe and other countries and regions. Among their duties, the policy directors will be Facebook’s primary contact with foreign government officials and politicians. That will be especially critical in places like Europe, where regulators are scrutinizing the privacy and data-handling practices of Google (GOOG) and other U.S. Internet companies.
“It’s hard to predict what 600 million people expect” for privacy across an array of countries and cultures, Facebook privacy counsel Ed Palmieri said Friday at the Privacy Identity Innovation conference in Santa Clara.
The new international jobs are part of a larger push by Facebook to beef up government relations both in the U.S. and abroad.
As state attorneys general become increasingly active in regulating Internet companies over privacy and antitrust issues, for instance, Facebook also is creating a job in Washington to deal with state government policy. Abroad, Facebook’s new Pan-European director of safety in London, as well as a policy director to be based in the home of the European Commission in Brussels, will help the company navigate Europe’s regulatory shoals.
Google created a similar international team in 2006. Facebook is stocked with ex-Googlers, from Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on down, who witnessed the benefits of having staffers in other countries to flag executives about cultural problems before they blow up, and to direct damage control after they do.
“Somebody forwarded me those (Facebook job) listings with a note: ‘Look familiar?’ ” said Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s director of global public policy from 2004 to 2009. “We did exactly that same thing.”
McLaughlin, who left Google to become deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration, and who now is at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, said Google’s policy directors abroad were sometimes able to defuse crises before they happened.
For example, when the Google Talk instant message product was designed to permanently store all conversations, the company’s foreign policy staff warned that would cause privacy problems in Europe, McLaughlin said. Google’s engineers redesigned Talk to include a mode that does not store conversations.
“Was it useful? Totally,” McLaughlin said of Google’s foreign policy staffers. “You literally build a foreign service for the company, people whose mission it is to represent the company outwardly, but also to translate the policy environment back into the company.”
Facebook is setting the recruiting bar high. Its posting for a Middle East policy director asks for someone with a degree in a related field, at least 10 years experience in both government and industry and “superb” written and spoken English but also fluency in Turkish, Arabic or another Middle Eastern language. Facebook wants a person comfortable with politicians at the most senior levels of government, who has experience as a media spokesperson, preferably on both radio and TV; and of course, has “a passionate belief” in Facebook.
Facebook does not disclose the prospective pay of the policy director jobs but promises an eventful assignment.
“Successful applicants will become part of a team that is dealing with some of the most interesting public policy challenges of our times,” Facebook’s posting says, “including privacy, freedom of expression, the impact of the Internet on business models, and new opportunities for public service delivery.”