There's no escaping that 2020 could be Facebook's worst year to date.
After a string of privacy abuses and data scandals, Facebook not only has a trust issue but also now finds itself embroiled in four separate antitrust investigations. Even US presidential candidates have talked about breaking up the company. Considering it was one of Silicon Valley's biggest innovators just a few years ago, it's safe to say Facebook has fallen from grace and may never recover.
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Still, based on everything that's recently happened, we can make some educated guesses about what's in store for Facebook. Spoiler alert: We don't think all its troubles are going away anytime soon. That doesn't mean Facebook plans to lay low in the next year. On the contrary, reports suggest it has plenty of projects in the works. Here's what to expect from Facebook in 2020, the good and the bad.
Let's start with the three Facebook apps you use the most: Facebook announced in early 2019 that it plans to integrate Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram messaging. It is basically creating a single messaging platform for all three. While each service will still exist as a standalone app, you'll be able to send messages from Messenger to WhatsApp users who don't have a Facebook account.
But this effort could make it hard for US regulatory agencies, such as the US Federal Trade Commission, to break up the company. The FTC might, therefore, try to prevent the apps from integrating, by citing competition concerns. The WSJ claimed an injunction could land by January 2020. This also suggests the agency is interested in taking aggressive antitrust actions against Facebook.
Keep in mind, last July, the FTC dished out its largest fine ever as part of a $5 billion settlement with Facebook.
Facebook is reportedly developing its own operating system, to back an even more serious push into hardware. Presumably intended to run on devices like future Portal video chat products, the whole effort seems to be about reducing Facebook's reliance on Google's Android. Currently, all the Facebook Portal devicees and even Facebook-owned Oculus VR devices use Android to function.
According to The Information, this project is led by Mark Lucovsky, an old hand at Microsoft who developed Windows NT. We also know from other reports - and reiterated by The Information - that Facebook is simultaneously working on custom chips. Add it all up, and Facebook could develop and even launch new devices in 2020 - featuring its own custom operating system and chips.
Given what we just said about Facebook reportedly developing its own operating system and custom chips for devices, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see new Portal-branded devices launch in 2020. Who knows if they will, in fact, run a different OS or use different chips, but annual hardware refreshes to existing Portal devices and maybe even new Portal form factors seem likely.
Facebook might be working on its very own smart voice assistant, to compete with Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Google Assistant. Per CNBC, the assistant is being developed by the same division that works on long-term projects, including Oculus products. Exactly how this assistant will be used has yet to be revealed. Presumably, it'll come installed on Portals and maybe Oculus headsets.
Facebook already offers a text-based AI in Messenger, called M. So, perhaps its new voice assistant will arrive in 2020 as an evolution of M?
Facebook might break into the increasingly crowded cloud gaming market, after recently confirming the purchase of Spanish service PlayGiga. The acquisition was announced by Facebook's gaming division, and it's suggestive of a desire within the massive social network to ramp up its presence in games. Facebook itself isn't commenting on what PlayGiga will be doing for it yet, of course.
PlayGiga's own announcement does contain a clue, though. Its website says it'll continue "work in cloud gaming, now with a new mission". This, obviously, indicates it'll work on cloud gaming at Facebook. Does that mean Facebook might develop its own cloud gaming service in 2020?
It's way too early to determine, honestly. But, if it can offer a steady cloud gaming experience, it would offer competition to the likes of Google Stadia and Microsoft's Project xCloud, both of which are still in their early stages.
Dozens of attorneys general recently joined an antitrust investigation into Facebook. The New York Attorney General's office is leading the multi-state investigation, which it first opened in late 2019. Among the states missing from the list is California, where Facebook is based.
Facebook is also facing antitrust investigations at the federal level. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are both investigating the company. The FTC is specifically probing Facebook's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp for possible violations.
We suspect major developments from these investigations to arise in 2020.
It looks like Facebook's Libra cryptocurrency will be dead on arrival.
Visa, Mastercard, eBay, Stripe, PayPal, and Mercado Pago all recently announced they are leaving the Libra Association, Facebook's upcoming distributed, global cryptocurrency. This means Libra will have no major payment processor in the US. Their seemingly timed departures came before the first Libra Council meeting. It, therefore, looks like the project has many hurdles ahead, even beyond the criticisms it's faced so far.
That said, Libra Association policy chief Dante Disparte has already said the Libra team is focused on moving forward and "continuing to build a strong association" with the world’s leading enterprises and organisations. Expect to hear more on this effort in the coming months.
Facebook has had several security incidents in the past few years, severely damaging consumer trust in the company.
Just this past October, for instance, it discovered hackers had exploited a vulnerability in its code. The attackers were able to access details on 14 million user profiles, including their usernames, relationships, religion, hometown, current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, and 15 most-recent searches.
Based on the scale and frequency of these types of security incidents, there's no reason to believe Facebook will be immune to them in 2020.