Zuckerberg says Facebook will shift to privacy-oriented platform

Zuckerberg says Facebook will shift to privacy-oriented platform
© Greg Nash

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergTop antitrust Dem calls on FTC to probe Facebook's market dominance Conservatives face a tough fight as Big Tech's censorship expands Actually, consumers love Big Tech, even if they say they don't MORE on Wednesday announced the company would be reorienting itself to become a more privacy-minded platform.

"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. This is the future I hope we will help bring about," Zuckerberg said in a post.

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He added that the company would be focusing on building encryption tools and "reducing permanence" in users' online communications.

The post comes as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reportedly considers levying a record multimillion-dollar fine against Facebook over its handling of user privacy. The social media behemoth has faced an ongoing barrage of scandals over its data privacy practices, with governments and privacy watchdogs around the world accusing Facebook of valuing profit over user safety.

While the company has tried to adapt in a climate increasingly sensitive to data privacy issues, Zuckerberg's post offers some of the first specifics around how it might change its operations, and it marks a radical shift in Facebook's mission. Zuckerberg compared Facebook's original structure to the "digital equivalent of a town square," with a focus on public posts and conversations. Now, he says, more users opting for a digital "living room" with a greater focus on intimate and private communication.

Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook is planning to start encrypting messages end-to-end, and then will add privacy features for calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments and commerce. He emphasized that Facebook will accept the repercussions for the focus, even being banned from countries that bar privacy features including encryption.

The embattled CEO emphasized WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014, as a model for the future of encrypted messaging on Facebook.

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

Facebook recently announced plans to integrate its messaging services Instagram Direct, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger so that users can communicate across the different platforms.

"With the ability to message across our services, however, you'd be able to send an encrypted message to someone's phone number in WhatsApp from Messenger," Zuckerberg wrote.

He wrote that Facebook will pivot toward reducing the "permanence" of messages and stories.  

"I believe there's an opportunity to set a new standard for private communication platforms — where content automatically expires or is archived over time," Zuckerberg wrote. "Stories already expire after 24 hours unless you archive them, and that gives people the comfort to share more naturally. This philosophy could be extended to all private content."

He wrote that the changes would take place "over the next few years."

Updated at 3:30 p.m.