On Wednesday, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a more than 3,000-word blog post that seems to declare a major shift in Facebook's strategy. In that he says he believes that "a privacy-focused communication platform will be even more important than today's open platforms."
Zuckerberg explains that he wants Facebook to build a privacy-focused message and social networking platform, describing his vision thus:
Public social networks will still be very important in people's lives ̵1; to connect with everyone you know, discover new people, ideas and content, and give people a voice wider. People find these valuable every day, and there are still many useful services to build on them. But now, with every way people also want to interact privately, it's also an opportunity to build a simpler platform that focuses on privacy first.
He acknowledges Facebook is a strangely suited to this approach, saying, "Honestly, we don't" I currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protection services, and we have historically focused on tools for more open sharing, but :
I believe that the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident about what they say to each other remains secure and their messages and content will not stick to forever. This is the future I hope we will help create.
He adds that this will be built around the following principles:
- Private Interactions
- Reducing permanence
- Interoperability  Secure data storage
As far as private interactions Going, he simply means that he sees users increasingly using group and direct message rather than or in addition to publishing content to all their friends or followers.
Zuckerberg puts this and the need for focus on privacy as realizations he has come to, but they are things that spread competitors to various Facebook products and businesses have already focused on for years.
End-to-end encryption over the Facebook network
He also announces intentions to encrypt all these communications from end to end (this is already the case with WhatsApp). "In a few years, I expect future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp will be the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network," he explains. "We are focused on making both of these apps faster, easier, more private and safer, including end-to-end -end encryption. "
He discusses the benefits of this approach to security and privacy, but admits that it will pose challenges to ensure user safety in other ways:
When billions of people use a service to connect, some of them are abusing it to really terrible things like child exploitation, terrorism and extortion. We have a responsibility to work with law enforcement and to prevent these where we can. We work to improve our ability to identify and stop bad actors across our apps by discovering activity patterns or otherwise, even when we can't see the content of the messages and we will continue to invest in this work. 19659019] Facebook has suffered significant fire in recent years for failure or inability (depending on who you ask) to knock down false or abusive content shared by users. While the benefits of encryption are genuine and significant, Zuckerberg and Facebook can think of another upside. When encryption precludes access to the contents of the user's messages, Facebook can meet lesser expectations of responsibility to protect users from these issues, since enforcement of some policies will be virtually impossible in many cases.
Encryption is not the only way to protect user data, argues Zuckerberg. Snapchat-like impermanence of messages is also part of his plan.
Messages can be deleted by one month or a year by default. This will reduce the risk of your messages recovering and flapping you later. Of course, you will have the option to change the time frame or turn off automatic deletion for your threads if you want. And we can also give you the option of expiring individual messages after a few seconds or minutes if you want.
He adds that the company will limit the amount of time it stores message metadata. Along with the other changes, he positions this as an attempt to protect users' data from overreaching governments.
Merging WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger
In addition, Zuckerberg announces that the company will integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger into a messaging system so that users can seamlessly send and receive messages between them.
"People will be able to choose what service they use to communicate with people," says Zuckerberg, but "if you want to send people on Facebook, you have to use Messenger, on Instagram you need to use Direct, and on WhatsApp you must use WhatsApp. "
In the new approach, users will be able to send messages to their friends using one of Facebook's messaging apps, regardless of which friends they use. Facebook has told that it would not merge WhatsApp data with the rest of Facebook, but Facebook will break this promise by sharing the three apps share the same rear end, according to The New York Times & # 39; sources . The three message platforms together have about 2.6 billion users. Facebook hopes to complete this transition by early 2020.
Zuckerberg says that interoperability will extend to SMS. This is already possible with the Messenger app on Android, but Facebook will expand it using the RCS standard. However, this feature will probably never be possible on the iPhone, as Apple "does not allow the apps to interact with SMS on their devices."
While these changes will provide greater user-friendliness, they will also create a value set that will be very difficult for other platforms to compete with. Another challenge the blog post identifies: This new system "will create security and spam vulnerabilities in an encrypted system to let people send messages from unknown apps where our security systems could not see activity patterns."
Zuckerberg does not mention a solution for this, but says that it is something Facebook should work through.
Storing user data away from government abuse
Continuing on the topic of user privacy and security, Zuckerberg says it will avoid storing user data in data centers that are in countries where the data can be compromised by local authorities – even if that means Facebook will not be able to expand in places where it wants.
When we build our infrastructure around the world, we have chosen not to build data centers in countries that have an overview of human rights violations such as privacy or freedom of expression. Building data centers and storing sensitive data in these countries, instead of just caching unwanted data, can make it easier for governments to take people's information.
Maintaining this principle may mean that our services will be blocked in some countries or that we will not be able to access others at any time soon. It is a compromise we are willing to do. We do not believe storing people's data in any country is a sure enough basis for building such an important internet infrastructure.
This may pose problems for expansion in China, a place formerly Facebook leaders have called as a growth potential region.
Facebook's future is more uncertain than ever
Although some changes such as end-to-end encryption are meant to ease users' and regulator's fear of privacy, other parts of this vision will probably shake new viciousness and criticism. Merging the three message apps will make mobile messaging a less competitive market. And The New York Times reports that the decision to integrate WhatsApp into the broader system has been considered a fraud internally, and that WhatsApp's employees and managers have begun to protest.
Facebook bought WhatsApp for $ 19 billion in 2014, with a promise of independence and a different standard of privacy than users of Facebook's core social network. The decision to acquire WhatsApp was informed by data Facebook harvested from its users about the use of other smartphone apps in addition to Facebook, against one of these platforms.
And there is one important thing that was not discussed: how Facebook's existing business model for data collection and advertising based on the data will work with this approach ahead. Zuckerberg noted that this new approach to messages presents new business opportunities related to payouts and other "private services", and although he does not specify this, it is clear that advertisers are able to reach users across all three messaging platforms, proving lucrative .
But given that Facebook's current revenue model depends on large databases with publicly shared information, there are many questions to ask. And this transition will probably take a long time to do. But Zuckerberg may be writing on the wall here: Young people use private messaging apps more than older people, and users, the press, and government officials are daily and highly challenging and criticize the company's privacy practices and the basis of its existing business model.
Zuckerberg has announced privacy initiatives in the past but then not delivered on them. This long blog post guarantees nothing but the start of a new phase of conversation. Tellingly, the Facebook share did not jump to news about Zuckerberg's posts. Investors can wait to see how serious he really is – and there are also users and regulators.