Facebook bigwig, Mark Zuckerberg, released a lengthy blog post overnight detailing the company’s vision for its suite of social media platforms moving forward. Essentially, he wants to focus on encryption, privacy and ephemeral messaging, and if that means Facebook will be banned in certain countries, so be it.
In other words, it seems The Zucc has shifted his focus from the mass collection of data to complete, end-to-end encryption, which one of its platforms, WhatsApp, already does.
“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,” Zuckerberg said. “Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication.”
While Zucc is still keen on larger social networks, he’s shifting gears towards services which sound more like Snapchat than Facebook, which is likely motivated out of the total shitfight the company’s been in over the past 12 months or so. We all remember Cambridge Analytica, right? Well, it looks like Facebook is trying to mend its reputation.
“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,” Zuckerberg says. “This is the future I hope we will help bring about.“
It’s far too early to know what this is going to look like, and for all we know, this could just be some ramblings that amount to little at the end of the day, but he’s certainly right in seeing the trend of smaller groups seeking spaces for private communication. People are scared of a lasting social media presence because they see folks being destroyed daily by something stupid they posted years ago.
While it’s pretty clear this is – at least in part – a ploy to get the user back on side, you still have to ask: what would Facebook get out of this change? It still has to keep its shareholders happy, so there must be a business opportunity in encryption somewhere. There certainly is, but the good news is, it probably has less to do with exploiting your data.
Essentially, Zucc is keen on exploring new business tools which rely on encryption to function, like banking, e-commerce, and so on. He wants to make Facebook and its other services “a platform for many other kinds of private services,” he writes. The company’s also keen on making its messaging apps interoperable with each other, so, for example, someone on Facebook Messenger could message someone on WhatsApp or Instagram. Eventually, the plan is to make these interoperable with standard SMS.
But the thing is, making a totally encrypted messaging service isn’t that easy in today’s world, and could see Facebook banned in countries which demand local data storage or access to encrypted messages.
“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,” Zuckerberg said in his post. “That’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make. We do not believe storing people’s data in some countries is a secure enough foundation to build such important internet infrastructure on.”
This also has an impact on Facebook and its services locally, as new laws passed late last year now let Australian law enforcement agencies demand access to encrypted apps if they have enough evidence to suggest they’re being used for illegal activity. While this doesn’t necessarily change how an app’s encryption works (it’ll be targeted to certain users or groups, rather than the entire app), it does weaken the concept, given police can force companies to build a way to let them snoop on private conversations. These laws are in place and are currently being used.
Zuckerberg does, however, note that Facebook is willing to work within certain legal requirements, but it’s unclear how this is going to look at this stage.
“We have a responsibility to work with law enforcement and to help prevent these wherever we can,” Zuckerberg said. “We are working to improve our ability to identify and stop bad actors across our apps by detecting patterns of activity or through other means, even when we can’t see the content of the messages, and we will continue to invest in this work. But we face an inherent tradeoff because we will never find all of the potential harm we do today when our security systems can see the messages themselves.”
The last sentence, in particular, is at odds with the new laws. If Facebook itself refuses to look at the messages, I can’t see it building a way to let law enforcement get a look at them.
The big question here is, will Facebook happily cop a ban in Australia if it came down to it, or would it comply with the laws in place? We reached out to Facebook Australia which said it had nothing to add regarding the post.
There’s no real timeframe for when old mate Zucc is keen on implementing his wholesale encryption, but he does say it would take place “over the next few years”. It’ll be very interesting to see how it all pans out.
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