Mark Zuckerberg has pinned the future of Facebook on a shift from its historic mission to make the world more “open and connected”, saying that “privacy-focused” communications were becoming more important than open platforms.
Facebook, a social media and social networking site, was launched by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 along with some of his Harvard roommates. Almost instantly the site was a hit among its users and grew exponentially across the world.
Facebook has more than 2 billion monthly active users as of June 2017. Its popularity has led to prominent media coverage for the company, including significant scrutiny over privacy and the psychological effects it has on users.
In May 2017, it emerged that Facebook was a key influencer in the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election and the Brexit vote, according to those who ran the campaigns. Those in charge of these digital campaigns believe that the social network was decisive in both wins. In the past years, social media, in general, has come under scrutiny for hate campaigns and terrorist propaganda, the presence of bots, and the proliferation of so-called fake news ahead of elections.
Since the start of 2018, Facebook has committed to making significant changes to their platform. In a post on his page on the social network early this month, creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the website was making too many errors enforcing policies and preventing misuse of its tools. Zuckerberg has famously set himself challenges every year since 2009. In 2018, the Facebook creator said his “Personal challenge” is to fix important issues with the platform to prevent misuse of the website.
The founder and chief executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg said that he recognised that the group had focused on tools for sharing posts and did not “currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services”.
However, he said that private messaging, small groups and ephemeral posts had become “the fastest growing areas of online communication”.
Facebook was weighing how to allow users’ messages and metadata to auto-delete after a certain amount of time, he said, and would only store data in countries where governments did not violate citizens’ privacy, even if this meant its services were blocked in those regions.
Mr Zuckerberg is battling increasing pressure from the public and regulators over the privacy of user’s information following a string of scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica data sharing revelations last year.
The post comes weeks after it emerged that Facebook had plans to integrate the messaging services of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger into one encrypted system, meaning only people sending and receiving messages will be able to view them.
Facebook bought the photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014 respectively, but to date, the services have remained relatively independent from their parent company.
Mr Zuckerberg reiterated a commitment to deliver end-to-end encryption across the trio of platforms, a move which could irk law enforcement officials who fear the system allows criminals to communicate without detection.
“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,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
Privacy activists said that the post still did not address worries over how Facebook uses and shares user data, particularly when it comes to targeted advertising.
Facebook is presently in talks with the US Federal Trade Commission to settle an investigation into whether it broke a consent order it signed in 2011, which required it to be clear with users about how their data was being shared with third parties. If Facebook is found to have broken the 2011 consent order, it could face a multibillion-dollar fine.
The original consent order was signed by Facebook after the FTC found in 2011 that the company had “deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public”.
Our assessment is that Zuckerberg’s decision to shift focus on ‘private communications’ is a last-resort, reactionary move to counter the mounting criticism of the platform ahead of key elections in India, Greece and the EU. We believe that this may be too little, too late as Facebook reports a decline in average monthly users as well as lower subscriptions ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out.
Image Courtesy: Anthony Quintano from Honolulu, HI, United States (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_F8_2018_Keynote.jpg), „Mark Zuckerberg F8 2018 Keynote“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode