Privacy First Facebook Changes
Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a lengthy article titled, “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking” that promised stronger protections for consumer privacy and a new approach to building a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform. Privacy First, Facebook claims.
“I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms.” Zuckerberg wrote, continuing to say, “Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.”
Facebook has faced growing scrutiny over security concerns and their privacy policies, from Senate hearings and pressure from the International Grand Committee, to document seizures and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media giant has raised more than a few eyebrows.
In his post, Zuckerberg stated that there’s “an opportunity to build a simpler platform that’s focused on privacy first,” and while he acknowledged that Facebook doesn’t “currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services,” he wrote that he hopes to help bring about a future where consumers “can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever.”
The article is quite wordy and in addition to attempting to address security aspects, the face of Facebook covers his opinion on multiple aspects of secure data storage, privacy, and permanence.
However, one announcement that is liable to catch a lot of attention from their customers is the promise of creating an opt-in service that will make it possible for people to send messages to contacts across Facebook platforms. Meaning no matter whether you’re currently on WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook or SMS, you’ll be able to send an encrypted message to your friends no matter which app they’re currently using.
While the focus on security changes was likely in response to government pressure and growing concerns, the user-end changes he announced are invariably due to Facebook’s diminishing user base. At the end of February, Edison Research published an article that determined that for the first time in a decade, Facebook saw a decline in usage and lost 15 million users from 2017 – 2018.
The interoperability of the messenger services may be a response to this decline. By giving Messenger and the main platform a much-needed boost from the sections of their business that are still seeing growth: WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook likely hopes to entice users that utilize competing services like Apple’s Messages, Skype, Telegram, Google’s Hangouts to their soon-to-be-united messaging services.
While the previous leadership of these sections clashed with Zuckerberg over integrating the services, both were recently replaced with leadership that seem to be on the same page and ready to unite the services.
However, there are those that think this may be a major case of blowing smoke. The day after Zuckerberg’s announcement, the Director for the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, Siva Vaidhyanathan, wrote a scathing article in The Guardian entitled, “Facebook’s new move isn’t about privacy. It’s about domination.” In it, Vaidhyanathan said that this move “distracts journalists and critics from several revelations that show how brazenly Facebook exploits and abuses its users.”
One-time Zuckerberg mentor, Facebook investor, and venture capitalist, Roger McNamee, was quoted in an interview with Quartz as saying, “On privacy, I would suggest what Facebook is doing is more about public relations,” and went on to say it will be interesting “Whether they use it as a way to combine services that might otherwise come under antitrust scrutiny.”
So, is the move by Zuckerberg simply to attract users back to the platform, take eyes off past negativity, or to actually address security and privacy concerns of consumers and regulators? Time will likely reveal the truth but for now, it’s likely best to take the announcement with a grain of salt and a skeptical eye.
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