After a year in which his company's unscrupulous depths were revealed when it comes to mining and monetizing users' data, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided that the future is about privacy.
Zuckerberg, in what can only be described as a truly Zuckerberg-ian public announcement about a course correction, published a blog post Wednesday morning suggesting that the global "town square" of social media was giving way to something more intimate.
"People increasingly ... want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room," Zuckerberg opines. "As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today's open platforms. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks."
So what does that actually mean for Facebook, you ask, when it already knows about everything you like to eat, drink and have sex with and everywhere you've been for the last 12 years?
Zuckerberg says, vaguely, "Over the next few years, we plan to rebuild more of our services" around the ideas of end-to-end encryption, private interactions, and impermanence — i.e. disappearing content like Stories a.k.a Snapchat.
There's also a mea culpa, the likes of which we've heard from Zuckerberg at least nine times in the last three years.
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.
He goes on to say that he sees the future of the company likely lies in Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp — not in the original Facebook platform itself. That's been borne out in various growth charts over the last couple of years and is not huge news — as of September 2018, WhatsApp surpassed Facebook in monthly active users, meaning that Zuck's $19 billion bet in 2014 has truly paid off.
The big takeaways:
∙ Zuckerberg elaborates on the January news that the company is planning to rebuild the underlying code bases of Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger so that they all can communicate with each other by saying that this will "improve convenience" for people.
∙ That "interoperability" will allow people to send messages to SMS apps as well, from Facebook's apps — the next step in Facebook trying to usurp the messaging monopolies of Apple and Google.
∙ Facebook plans to add more options related to impermanence, like the ability to archive or hide old photos and other content without deleting them altogether.
∙ The use of end-to-end encryption, in which even Facebook can't see what users are saying or sending to each other in private messages, means that Facebook needs better tools to help law enforcement track the behavior of "bad actors" who are, for example, exploiting children.
∙ Zuckerberg says the company is committed to secure data storage and therefore won't be building data centers in countries with poor records regarding privacy, and likely won't be entering those countries (like China) at all.
In conclusion, Zuck writes, "I believe we should be working towards a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won't all stick around forever."
In related news, a new survey shows that Facebook's US user base has declined by 15 million since 2017.