On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a radical change in focus for the beleaguered social media company, stating that it will shift to a privacy-focused platform emphasizing end-to-end encryption, increased user control over personal data, and more. The changes will take years to implement, according to Zuckerberg, who said in his announcement, “I believe working towards implementing end-to-end encryption for all private communications is the right thing to do.”
Facebook has a very poor reputation when it comes to user security, an issue underscored by the Cambridge Analytica scandal that surfaced in early 2018.
Though Facebook has taken arguably minimal steps toward improving user control over data and increasing message privacy, many changes have largely been reactive, happening only after a new leak or scandal highlighted additional problematic issues or practices.
That reality makes Zuckberg’s new revelation both expected and hard to believe. It makes sense for the company to shift toward privacy-centric features in light of its reputation, or else it risks losing the users who haven’t already fled its service. At the same time, Facebook’s own history makes it difficult to believe the company could ever make a substantial, notable shift toward a truly secure and private platform.
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook will make a number of changes over coming years, including reducing the permanence of user content, adding end-to-end encryption across all of its messaging services, establishing private interactions “as a foundation” of the service, improving user safety, securely storing user data, and secure interoperability.
Facebook will need to work through multiple issues related to these goals, Zuckerberg said, and most of the company’s work on the matter is still ‘in the early stages.’ Zuckerberg acknowledged the skepticism critics will direct at the company, saying:
I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform — because 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. But we’ve repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.
Though questions remain about what the final products will look like in a world where Facebook prioritizes privacy, the company’s announcement indicates that key features will remain, including the ability to send money to other users. Zuckerberg explains:
We plan to build this the way we’ve developed WhatsApp: focus on the most fundamental and private use case — messaging — make it as secure as possible, and then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services.
The privacy-focused platform won’t replace the company’s public platform, however, with Facebook and Instagram plodding on in their more familiar, open, forms.