Zuckerberg Suddenly Cares About Privacy Enough To (Re)Build A Company Around It

Facebook Messenger AH NS 02 AH 2019

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has taken to the social network’s blog to outline what he says is a path toward a more privacy-focused service, built on concepts of private interactions, encryption, reduced permanence, safety, and interoperability. Most of the changes will apply more directly to the company’s messaging apps but the post also points to significant changes in terms of how and where data is stored.

The company has already placed a heavy focus on not storing sensitive data in countries where human rights violations are prominent. That includes areas where privacy and free speech aren’t upheld. That won’t change moving forward but the company is extending its policy to not store sensitive data or encryption keys across all of its services. Mr. Zuckerberg explicitly says that move will keep it from operating in many regions and says the company is willing to face the resulting bans from any of the incoming changes.

Mixing up the messaging platforms

As noted above, the bulk of the latest news from Facebook centers around the company’s multiple messaging platforms, with the social media giant stepping toward one-on-one and small group interactions. The public platform will, of course, stay in place — although it seems as though the incoming changes won’t necessarily have much impact there at all. Instead, Mr. Zuckerberg notes that people need to have “simple, intimate places” where communication can take place freely and out of the public eye. That includes better control for users over which users can communicate with them.


Facebook says it plans to put end-to-end encryption in place that will prevent even its own algorithms and admins from seeing what users are sharing. It won’t keep either Facebook Stories or messages around in the long-term — specifically for longer than users “want them” to be kept or is necessary for Facebook to deliver its service. The company has also recommitted itself to ensuring user safety within the limits of that encryption.

All of its apps will include the new encryption and control mechanisms too while moving closer to true interoperability that enables users from any of its messaging platforms to communicate with each other. Each of the apps will, in effect, move closer to emulating characteristics that have made WhatsApp popular while maintaining their own identity — for now.

Additionally, Facebook plans to make its apps more accessible by making Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Messenger interoperable with SMS across all compatible platforms via the newest RCS standards.

Payments and financial transactions made via its platforms will be made more secure as well, Mr. Zuckerberg says.


What does this actually mean for end users?

The proposed directional change for Facebook doesn’t necessarily do much to address a wealth of concerns related to Facebook’s ad-related tracking and data collection practices outside of its messaging, one-to-one, or group communications platforms. Additionally, the company hasn’t outlined any details regarding exactly how it plans to provide users with any type of control over who can have or not have access to their data on any of its platforms.

For the time being, users aren’t likely to notice any immediate changes and it could take years for all of the changes Facebook has planned to be put in place. Primarily, that’s the result of Facebook needing to work out “details and tradeoffs” through consultation with an array of experts, advocates, industry partners, and government entities such as law enforcement and regulators. With consideration for the remaining privacy and personal data concerns, it remains to be seen whether the move will be enough or whether it can act fast enough to offset regional downward trends as users leave the platform for something new.