Zuckerberg's shift on privacy looks like a cop-out

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It's conceivable that Mark Zuckerberg's Wednesday blog post "A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking" is a historic document not only for Facebook but for the technology industry, period. It will be "a platform for many other kinds of private services", he writes. But Zuckerberg said that would become the default for all of Facebook's messaging products.

Some consumers reacted with skepticism. The company has earned itself little respect by constantly riding roughshod over user privacy, and it's not clear if its reputation can be salvaged from the numerous scandals that have emerged over the years.

But there are plenty of obstacles.

United Kingdom watchdog group Privacy International on Tuesday said while a few Android apps have stopped sharing data with Facebook, many haven't. Zuckerberg submitted to two days of grilling on Capitol Hill last April. "As part of our ongoing commitment to privacy, we are removing the Facebook SDK App Events component from both the Android and iOS apps in the next version releases". "I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with". However, today if you want to message people on Facebook you have to use Messenger, on Instagram you have to use Direct, and on WhatsApp you have to use WhatsApp. "It's one of the factors that's contributing to our expected deceleration of revenue growth throughout the year".

Another big question is how Facebook would be able to monetize this shift to privacy. Private communication is becoming more important and it takes place between a small number of people.

Translation: we won't build data centres in China.

That's far from proven.

Facebook is to move users more towards private conversations and away from public broadcasting.

If what happens on Facebook is more private and temporary, he says, it may be harder to hold the site accountable for any perceived misdeeds.

Though the company is still facing backlash over data misuse, Facebook's evolution plan will put end-to-end encryption at the forefront for Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct, much like how WhatsApp now operates. "Zuckerberg has made his money by performing a sort of arbitrage between how much privacy Facebook's 2 billion users think they are giving up and how much he has been able to sell to advertisers", he continued. Already, businesses can already target Facebook and Instagram users with the same ads, and marketing campaigns are likely coming to WhatsApp eventually. Instant messaging is not the focus of Instagram either. A report from University of Oxford researchers past year found evidence of widespread disinformation campaigns on chat applications like WhatsApp. The Indian government has claimed that rumors spread via the platform have led to multiple mob lynchings in the country. "Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks", Zuckerberg said.

At Facebook's first town hall-style Q&A in November, Zuckerberg predicts that Facebook feeds will be dominated by video content within a half decade. That is, having pulled people into something that he believes is the equivalent of a "digital public square" he wants Facebook to build a more privacy-focused social platform centered on the equivalent of "digital living rooms" where people share more intimately with each other.