POLITICS
09/27/2011 03:10 EDT | Updated 11/27/2011 05:12 EST

Facebook co-founder Hughes says even he wants some privacy from social media

MONTREAL - He may have helped create the world's most ubiquitous networking tool, but even Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes admits that he needs a break from social media.

Hughes told business leaders in Montreal on Tuesday that while he cherishes the power of sites like Facebook and Twitter, they can't replace old-fashioned human contact.

"I want to continue to live in a world where people can sit through a meal without looking at a phone," the 28-year-old said.

"I want to have days when I only spend a little bit of time in front of a screen."

Hughes was among the small group of Harvard undergraduates who helped Mark Zuckerberg found Facebook in 2004.

Facebook's early success led to a position with Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, where Hughes served as head of online organizing.

These two achievements alone are likely to secure him a key spot in the modern history of the Internet, never mind an estimated net worth of $700 million.

But Hughes readily described the limits of the social media technology, noting the inherent tension between connectivity and privacy.

"Most of the time I don't want all of my friends knowing exactly where I am at every moment and exactly what I'm doing," he said.

That may come as a surprise to privacy advocates who have attacked Facebook for how it handles the personal information of its users.

Recently critics have accused Facebook of continuing to track people's browsing habits after they have logged out of the site.

Facebook has said its data-collection practises are necessary to protect the security of its users.

Hughes did not address Facebook's privacy policies directly in his speech; he is no longer involved in the company except as a shareholder. He did, however, argue against those who offer unreserved praise of social media.

"We as individuals have to make sure that just because we use the words 'connect,' 'share,' 'faster,' 'easier,' it doesn't always equal, 'better,'" he said.

"A lot of these ideas scare me, and they scare a lot of people, of my age, older, younger — particularly when they're treated as incontestable values."

"My point is, as individuals, I just want us to stay in control," he added.

As populations become increasingly connected, Hughes said, it will no longer be a question of who is on Facebook or Twitter, but what they are doing with it.

"More and more of our activity online will be part of these online networks," Hughes said. "I think the key thing to watch for is deepening engagement."

Social media platforms notably played a central role in mobilizing the street demonstrations that led to the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

They were also used by rioters in London this August; at least two people have been found guilty of trying to incite disturbances through Facebook posts.

But Hughes' vision for the future of social media includes less distinctly political uses.

During a brief question-and-answer session, Hughes took issue with the portrayal of Facebook as a Big Brother-type institution dictating people's tastes.

He said Facebook offers a variant of word-of-mouth advertising, drafting its users to promote products.

"Facebook's approach to advertising is, rather than bombarding people with things like banner ads, to actually make it easier for brands, for marketers to tell their stories and enable supporters to become promoters themselves," Hughes said.

He described it as a new form of advertising that consumers find less offensive and advertisers find more effective.

"Your advertising becomes part of the conversation, rather than something that is invading your space," he said.