Mark Zuckerberg has published a lengthy blog post to outline his "privacy-focused vision". The TL;DR version is that his company is actively working to change how Facebook and its other apps handle online communications.
A preview of Facebook's end-goals
Zuckerberg is essentially previewing his end-goals for Facebook and his company's other messaging platforms, like Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, as well as social networking in general. He covers everything from encryption to data storage to user safety. Zuckerberg also admitted some of his ambitions are years away from happening.
Keep in mind Facebook wants to show it takes privacy seriously, and Zuckerberg's post will likely be seen as a major step in that direction. But critics may argue Facebook is attempting to stave off any potential regulations. After the past few years of controversies, many lawmakers across the world have suggested Facebook needs to be closely watched.
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Moving to encrypted, ephemeral communications
In his 3,200-word post, Zuckerberg promised that encryption will be one of Facebook's main pillars going forward - even going as far as to confirm Facebook will not store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights, like Russia and China, and that upholding this core principle may mean that its services could get banned in some countries.
He also admitted that, despite all this talk about privacy and encryption, Facebook doesn't have a strong reputation:
“Frankly we don't currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we've historically focused on tools for more open sharing . . . I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won't stick around forever. This is the future I hope we will help bring about."
Zuckerberg explained that Facebook aims to one day move from public posts to encrypted, ephemeral communications. It will make interactions private, allow content to disappear, and it'll keep less metadata:
"Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication . . . Public social networks will continue to be very important in people's lives . . . But now, with all the ways people also want to interact privately, there's also an opportunity to build a simpler platform that's focused on privacy."
The Facebook CEO confirmed his company is considering deleting messages by default after a month or a year, allowing users to opt out if they wish. It might also let you set individual messages to expire after “a few seconds or minutes".
Facebook plans to enact his vision the the way it developed WhatsApp, with a focus on private messaging, making it as secure as possible, and then adding more ways for people to interact, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and other types of private services.
It's important to realise Facebook - one of the world’s richest companies because it encouraged users to publicly share posts and information, and then it harvested that personal data and let brands capitalise on it - is trying to explain to us all that it plans to do the opposite now and shift to private, encrypted services.
Messaging will be interoperable
Zuckerberg also hinted private, encrypted messaging could create room for new tools, like around payments and commerce. He suggested his company wants to make messaging interoperable, too, starting with allowing you to message between Facebook services like Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Messenger.
He also wants to make them all interoperable with SMS. Unfortunately, Zuckerberg didn't specify when Facebook would complete this vision, only saying it would take place “over the next few years". It does plan to talk with advocates, experts, and governments - including law enforcement and regulators - around the globe to "get these decisions right".
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Actions speak louder than words
It's worth pointing out that Zuckerberg never said his company is going to stop tracking what users do or stop analysing user actions or user data in order to advertise against them. Even with messaging metadata, the CEO merely conceded that it "makes sense to limit the amount of time" Facebook stores such metadata.
So, all we can do is sit and wait to see if Facebook delivers on its lofty promises. It does have a history of announcing bold, progressive changes, and then nothing happens or it very slowly rolls them out. For instance, the company has long teased anonymous login tools and a “clear history” button. And we're still waiting on both those features to launch for all.
Still, Zuckerberg's post does give us hope.