MOLOAA BAY, Kauai – As Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg attempts to fend off questions this week from two congressional committees about allowing data from 87 million users to fall into the hands of a controversial political consultant, work proceeds on construction of his vacation mansion on Kauai.
It’s on 700 acres of oceanfront property near Moloaa on Kauai’s north shore, for which he paid $100 million. The site, officially 7480 Koolau Road, is nominally owned by Kahuaina Holdings. Zuckerberg’s name appears nowhere in government records.
The complex, whose main house is to be the size of an aircraft hanger, will also have an enormous garage and what permits describe as a “ranch administration building.” It is protected by a stone wall fully three-quarters of a mile long and 6 feet high in places. There is a guard shack and a mobile ATV-mounted security force to confront perceived intruders.
Security officials require anyone performing work on the property to sign a nondisclosure agreement that specifies they will not divulge his name relating to work they do. Passengers in vehicles permitted to traverse the property have been banned individually if Zuckerberg’s security team identifies them as people who have made critical comments about him.
Some of the wall existed before Zuckerberg bought the property, but much of it is new construction. The wall itself has become a controversy as a symbol of the exclusionary practices Zuckerberg intended to introduce. Until local opposition forced a retreat, he was using “quiet title” litigation to intimidate in-holders with small pieces of land within his property into selling to him. He abandoned that strategy in the face of withering criticism.
It is scarcely a surprise that recent revelations that Facebook permitted users to be accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a firm with ties to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign whose data was harvested for a “fake news” campaign against Hillary Clinton, have not gone down well on Kauai.
Facebook has long been seen as a secretive company given to ignoring questions about how it does business. Its media office did not respond to several specific questions posed in researching this story.
So, while Washington greets Zuckerberg as a guy with some questions to answer, his ambivalent-at-best, hostile-at-worst prospective new neighbors on Kauai have some pointed views. These perspectives were shared last week — on Facebook, of course — in response to a reporter’s questions.
Dozens of Kauai residents responded. They did not hold back, especially about the perception that Facebook has spied on them. Yet they seem to have adapted to a changing world in which — Facebook or no Facebook — privacy is impossible to obtain.
Felicia Cowden, an outspoken talk show host on north shore-centric KKCR radio, said of Zuckerberg: “Everything we do is being tracked, analyzed and sold. Facebook simply seems more of the same. I know my writings are going into both marketing and interest algorithms when I am on Facebook. I am unnerved when I turn on my phone to see an advertisement based on a conversation I just had with my phone off, sitting on a nearby surface.”
As Teresa Wintersteen put it: “Yesterday, my son was doing homework research on his Chromebook (laptop) on German shepherds. A few minutes later, I was scrolling through my Chromebook (a totally different machine with totally different accounts) and I, his mother, was getting ads for German shepherds. LOL! The stalkers are really serious.”
This being Kauai, two yoga teachers — one of whom is also an acclaimed concert pianist who made her symphony solo debut when she was 9 — were among the most articulate Facebook critics.
“Generally, I dislike Facebook and the way they control and alter what you see,” wrote Carol Dumeyer, owner of the north shore studio Metamorphose Yoga. “I continue to use it for my business, but more so to keep up social connections. The privacy thing is kinda ironic, considering Zuckerberg has been super aggressive about privacy on the perimeter of the land he purchased.”
Said yoga teacher and concert pianist Monica Chung: “I don’t think people realize the importance of protecting themselves online. We really would be afraid if we knew exactly how much of our information is in the hands of others.
Chung was among those who also talked about having the Facebook CEO as a future neighbor.
“As for Zuckerberg making this his home, I think Kauai residents would be more welcoming if they (Zuckerberg and his family) had integrated themselves into the community here,” she said. “They didn’t start out well with the wall and the attempts at (appropriating) the land of grandfathered owners on their property.”
Others also toggled between Facebook privacy issues and the north shore development.
Joseph Manczyk noted Zuckerberg voluntarily agreed to only build just one estate on his property.
“If he’s only building one mansion, it’s better than a whole neighborhood of mansions on that land,” Manczyk said. “There’s no real privacy today. Whoever thought our personal information was actually safe, secure and private on social media? Like, for real.”
“I personally don’t feel good about Zuckerberg building a mansion because it’s just going to be an eyesore in the ‘country,’ said Mary-Martha Hull. “We should keep country country. If he wants to be liked on island and have kids for his children to play with, it would help if he would participate in some local philanthropy, because you know how people struggle here.”
Mike Vallee was more welcoming: “I really don’t care about the disclosure of information. I figure it’s not private, anyway, so it’s a non-issue. My general impression is that he and his wife are generous, charitable folks who happen to have a shitload of money, but they are just people like the rest of us.”
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to email@example.com and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories onour Facebook page
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues