Thursday, March 7, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking

Mark Zuckerberg:

Public social networks will continue to be very important in people’s lives -- for connecting with everyone you know, discovering new people, ideas and content, and giving people a voice more broadly. People find these valuable every day, and there are still a lot of useful services to build on top of them. 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 first.

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.

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.

Alex Stamos:

This isn’t a post I expected to read, and I wish he wrote it two years ago. Hopefully the external vision is reflected in internal moves to change product culture that informs thousands of product and engineering decisions per year. Turning a ship that large is difficult.

[…]

Right now FB gets crap (from the same people) for both invading people’s privacy and not policing communications enough. This is the judo move: in a world where everything is encrypted and doesn’t last long, entire classes of scandal are invisible to the media.

He explicitly recognizes the downside for safety, and rightly points out the potential mitigations, but he is coming down pretty hard on putting data outside of Facebook’s reach for advertising, content moderation, investigation and government requests.

[…]

The “Secure Data Storage” section is a massive shot across Tim Cook’s bow. Expect to hear a lot about iCLoud and China every time Cook is sanctimonious.

In other news, Zuck has clearly given up on entering China, as these changes makes that impossible. Good.

Ben Thompson:

In fact, what Zuckerberg announced is quite believable, precisely because it makes perfect sense for Facebook: this is a privacy cake that Facebook can have — and eat it too.

[…]

By the same token, though, just because Facebook capped Snapchat’s growth doesn’t mean that Snapchat’s core insight about the desire for private, ephemeral communication was wrong: what Zuckerberg wrote yesterday is basically Snapchat’s reason-for-existing. In other words, while Instagram Stories built a wall around Snapchat by copying Snapchat’s secondary feature, this “Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking” is a clear attempt to build the core of Snapchat for everyone else.

[…]

Perhaps most compelling, though, is the degree to which this move locks in Facebook’s competitive position. As I noted above, Snapchat already showed that Facebook is vulnerable in the realm of private ephemeral communications, but soon that will no longer be the case. Moreover, given Facebook’s focus on end-to-end encryption, the company has made it that much harder to even get off the ground: not even Snapchat is fully end-to-end encrypted (pictures are, but not text messages).

[…]

Why can Facebook deliver most of the value? Because they are still Facebook! They still have the core Facebook app, Instagram, ‘Like’-buttons scattered across the web — none of that is going away with this announcement. They can very much afford a privacy-centric messaging offering in a way that any would-be challenger could not. Privacy, it turns out, is a competitive advantage for Facebook, not the cudgel the company’s critics hoped it might be.

Nick Heer:

If Facebook truly is going to build private, encrypted services for its users, it’s not because the company’s culture has radically pivoted to embrace the value of privacy. This is more likely a tactic, rather than a goal for its own sake.

Previously: Facebook and Phone Numbers.

Update (2019-03-08): Zeynep Tufekci:

So, wow, Mark Zuckerberg published a plan to entrench Facebook, fend off regulatory action, lower costs, shrink scandal exposure, acknowledge realities— and he called it a “privacy-focused vision” while ignoring all the big privacy issues! 🙄

I mean, Facebook doesn’t need to read your messages—that’s not how its surveillance machine runs. Zuckerberg states as much same day in interview in @Wired. Done right, shift to end-to-end could be great. But it could just mean hiring fewer content moderators and hiding scandals.

China’s not happening. No kidding. People like Snapchat’s features and Facebook will keep copying them. They will scramble WhatsApp and Instagram hard into Facebook so regulators can’t break them off. These are not privacy shifts—they’re shrewd competitive moves for entrenchment.

See also: Exponent, Hacker News.

2 Comments

LOL, people believing anything Zuckerberg has to say about supporting private communications.

Will believe it when I see it. In the meantime, maybe I'll go see how many people I can locate via phone number because they were foolish enough to use it to secure their account...

I think we can take Zuckerberg at face value here. Product-wise it implies a shift and a lot of work. But it doesn't require Facebook to alter its core business.

Whether users communicate publicly or privately, Facebook will still have access to vast amounts of data on every user that it can sell ads against. And it won't necessarily change how un/ethically they use it. This wouldn't have any impact on, for example, using 2FA phone numbers to target ads at users. Or whether Facebook's algorithms promote clickbait conspiracy content because that's what people engage with.

Coincidentally, it sure helps them argue for integrating Messenger/Instagram/WhatsApp.

There may be some positive changes that come out of this, but for the most part it seems like business as usual.

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