In the most recent Facebook blog post, Mark Zuckerberg has waxed lyrical about his ‘vision’ for the mammoth social networking and messaging platform, promising a “privacy-focused” future for the service and announcing a number of changes that he intends to eventually implement.
According to the post, Zuckerberg has been doing some thinking about the nature of the internet and the increasingly significant role that privacy plays in online interactions. It could be argued that this thinking has been provoked by the privacy breaches and user data-related incidents afflicting Facebook in recent times – it’s likely not a coincidence that the one year anniversary of the breaking of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is coming up.
Nevertheless, the post mentions the increasing popularity of “private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups” in online social networks, attributing it to a growing caution of permanent online records, and the desire to connect more immediately with friends, family and relevant groups.
As such, Facebook will be looking to build a “simpler platform that’s focused on privacy first”, and it hopes to achieve this with a similar approach it took to its development of 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”.
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So what will this involve?
This new approach to a platform will apparently be founded on six core principles: private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability, and secure data storage.
There seems to be a good deal of overlap in these principles, but some of their descriptions contain more elaborate explanations of what this will change in terms of actual usage.
Privacy, encryption, safety, and permanence
One such promise is to give Messenger and WhatsApp end-to-end encryption and make them “faster, simpler, more private and more secure”. This is likely the reason for Facebook having recently moved all of its messaging services to the same platform.
While the post acknowledges the delicate balance between keeping private communications truly private, and exposing criminals who use it for nefarious purposes, Zuckerberg ultimately favors encryption, stating that Facebook would “build appropriate safety systems that stop bad actors as much as it possibly can within the limits of an encrypted service”.
Regarding the issue of permanence, Zuckerberg is considering employing an auto-deletion mechanism for all private messages that would be enabled by default, but could be altered or turned off entirely. Similarly, he proposes a limited timeframe for Facebook to store users’ message metadata, which is apparently used for “spam and safety systems”.
As mentioned before, Facebook had already announced its plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger messaging services, and this blog post confirms that this would then enable encrypted messages to be sent between each of these services.
Furthermore, once this capability has been introduced, Facebook is considering allowing each of these services to be able to send and receive messages via SMS as well (on an opt-in basis), although given the nature of SMS messaging, this will not allow for end-to-end encryption and will only work on Android handsets due to Apple’s restrictions.
In order to ensure it is legally able to uphold the privacy of its users’ data, Facebook has to consider where it is physically storing such information in its data centers around the globe.
“There's an important difference between providing a service in a country and storing people's data there,” Zuckerberg notes. “We've chosen not to build data centers in countries that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”
“Upholding this principle may mean that our services will get blocked in some countries, or that we won't be able to enter others anytime soon,” he continues. “That's a tradeoff we're willing to make.”
When will these changes occur?
The post concludes by noting that Facebook is in the very early stages for many of these proposed changes, and is still in the process of consulting with experts and officials around the world.
Unfortunately, the nature of the blog post is rather vague about what concrete changes will actually take place, let alone when they will occur, so we don’t expect anything to significantly shift in the immediate future.
Given the broader statements made in this post, we expect Facebook will provide more specific details about changes to its services as and when they are decided upon, developed, and released.