Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook to focus on private communication

Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said Facebook would encrypt conversations on more of its messaging services and make them compatible, the latest sign that the world’s biggest social network sees its future in intimate online chats.
More people want to interact privately or in more intimate groups online, Zuckerberg (above) said.
More people want to interact privately or in more intimate groups online, Zuckerberg (above) said.PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG) - Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg says the future of his company's product development will be focused on encrypted, private and ephemeral communication.

More people want to interact privately or in more intimate groups online, instead of in "the digital equivalent of a town square" provided by Facebook and Instagram, Zuckerberg said on Wednesday (March 6) in a blog post.

To serve that demand, the world's largest social-networking company will rebuild a lot of its features, he wrote, noting that smaller groups and more private, temporary posts are the fastest-growing areas of digital communications.

"I understand that many people don't think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform - because frankly we don't currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we've historically focused on tools for more open sharing," Zuckerberg wrote.

"But we've repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories."

Zuckerberg didn't explain in the post how the move would affect Facebook's advertising business.

The changes would involve making it possible to send messages between the different properties Facebook owns, including WhatsApp and Instagram, which would make it easier for Facebook to merge the data on users' identities.

"Of course, this would be opt-in and you will be able to keep your accounts separate if you'd like," Zuckerberg wrote.

The 3,200-word post comes amid heightened criticism of Facebook's data-collection practices, which are being probed by several governments around the world.

It has been almost a year since news reports revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, improperly obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users.

That disclosure kicked off a wave of concern of how the company gathers personal information, shares it with partners and uses it to sell digital advertising.

It has also fuelled discussion of whether Facebook, which owns four social-networking or messaging platforms with more than a billion users each, deserves greater antitrust scrutiny.

In the post, Zuckerberg says Facebook's move to encrypted messaging could be safer for government dissidents and others with controversial views.

The shift could also create an online space that Facebook would not be able to monitor or police, at a time when encrypted and anonymous messaging is already helping fuel violence and conflict on Facebook's WhatsApp messaging application.