The world is starting to wake up from a social media daze it’s been in for the last 15 years, and last week we learned even Facebook may be waking up… a bit. Mark Zuckerberg made quite the statement in regards to the future of the social network. “We’re building a foundation for social communication aligned with the direction people increasingly care about: messaging each other privately…. I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms.”
So what exactly does Zuckerberg mean by a more privacy-based social network? According to his statement, he means Facebook is going to emphasize private interactions more—more Messenger, less News Feed. Part of this involves the merging of messaging apps Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messages. It means those messages will be encrypted more often than not. And it means people will be able to control how long their content stays on the platform (i.e., more ephemerality built into Facebook services).
Zuckerberg’s vision for a more privacy-focused platform really comes down to privacy from the public. It’s going to create more tools for users to engage in one-to-few messaging conversations vs. the one-to-many social network posts. Zuckerberg was light on specifics, but there should be no reason to think Facebook will be abandoning its quest for user data.
A Different Way to the Same End
Facebook’s doing what any company in its position should do—follow market trends. And more users now than ever, especially younger ones, are seeking to use digital platforms to maintain connections with a small set of actual friends versus using a social network to maintain a wide net of casual acquaintances. Messaging is the future of digital communications.
Those rich relationships and conversations a different route to the same end for Facebook—data. Data is the raw material that drives Facebook’s revenue growth. The writing is on the wall. Facebook can’t mine that raw material the same way it used to. This pivot means the News Feed won’t be Facebook’s data firehose but messaging will.
Facebook may be touting a more privacy-focused future, but users should be clear, that does not mean privacy from Facebook. Data is Facebook’s value proposition. Giving users more private, message-based communication methods allows Facebook to continue collecting that data in a way that matches up with user preferences.
No Matter What It Says, Facebook Will Always Crave More Data
Facebook’s newfound interest in privacy comes at a time in which Facebook is under increasing pressure. It faces a record FTC fine for its handling over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, more stories are released each week around Facebook’s mismanagement of user data and calls for regulation are growing in volume like never before. This announcement was Facebook’s appeal that it can do better—an appeal we’ve heard multiple times over the last year.
This was Facebook saying to its users and to regulators, “We got this you guys. Don’t worry about it.”
But Facebook doesn’t have this. Facebook is incapable of being a privacy-based platform. The collection of data cannot be separated from the business that is Facebook. Facebook, on its own, is incapable of being a "privacy-focused communications platform.” Without regulation this will be another false promise by Facebook to be better.