Mark Zuckerberg, who runs Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, stated his intent to focus on private and encrypted communications that can be deleted after a certain amount of time. This new goal is opposite the originally stated purpose of Facebook, which was built around public posts in what he said would resemble a digital town square. Zuckerberg said the first step towards this new goal for Facebook would be to integrate Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, to enable cross-application messaging.
The New York Times reports Zuckerberg stated that, “we’re building a foundation for social communication aligned with the direction people increasingly care about: messaging each other privately.” In his blog post, Zuckerberg stressed a “privacy-focused vision for social networking,” that will include encryption, safety, interoperability and “reduced permanence.”
NYT notes that Zuckerberg’s announcement “raises new questions, not the least of which is whether it can realistically pull off a privacy-focused platform.” Openly shared posts are the engine of targeted advertising, which means a private model will “potentially hurt its business model.” By integrating all its platforms, “which historically have been separate and operated autonomously,” Facebook may also “face concerns … whether it was being anti-competitive.”
In his blog, Zuckerberg admitted the company doesn’t “currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services,” but stressed that the company has “repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want.” The company services have “more than 2.7 billion users around the world.” Zuckerberg arrived at this decision following “years of scandal … much of it originating from public sharing of posts.” The Federal Trade Commission, which, among other regulators, has scrutinized the company, is “considering a multibillion-dollar fine … for violating a 2011 privacy consent decree.”
NYT points out that, by moving to “more private methods of digital communications… in many ways, Zuckerberg is now emulating a strategy popularized by Tencent, the Chinese Internet company that makes the messaging app WeChat,” a “de facto portal” to the Internet for a variety of tasks.
The Verge digs down into the significance of Zuckerberg’s announcement, noting that not everyone is sure that he “means what he says.” NYT’s media journalist John Herrman “noted that Zuckerberg was against privacy before he was for it, and wondered if the CEO ought not to have provided a bit more detail on the nature of his recent religious conversion.” But if Zuckerberg makes good on his promises, the News Feed — which is Facebook’s “core” — becomes a legacy product. “Facebook has to find a new business model,” it says, because the News Feed is also Facebook’s core business unit, and replacing it “will be a Herculean task.”
The Verge suggests that the new business model “will probably be commerce,” noting that Facebook and Instagram already have apps for that and that the company is developing a cryptocurrency. But regulators will push back, it warned, saying that, “Facebook will be banned in large countries.” Zuckerberg seemed to understand that, writing that the switch to private communications “may mean that our services will get blocked in some countries, or that we won’t be able to enter others anytime soon.”
Zuckerberg’s Privacy Manifesto Is Actually About Messaging, Wired, 3/7/19
Mark Zuckerberg Wants Facebook to Emulate China’s WeChat. Can It?, The New York Times, 3/7/19
Facebook’s U.S. User Base Declined by 15 Million Since 2017, According to Survey, The Verge, 3/6/19