Pahahaha! Zuckerburg outlines his, *snort*, privacy-focused vision for Facebook and social networking hahahaha!

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Social networking in general, and Facebook in particular, is far from synonymous with the notion of privacy. Facebook makes occasional nods to granting users greater control over their privacy, but at the end of the day, data about users is what makes Mark Zuckerberg's company tick.

But setting out his vision for the future in a blog post, the Facebook founder has set out his "vision and principles around building a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform". We'd already heard about plans to merge the messaging platforms WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, this is central to his vision of the future. He has bold ideas of encryption and ephemerality playing a large part in increasing privacy, but Facebook will still have to overcome the issue of user trust.

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Although he doesn't set out any sort of timeframe, Zuckerberg says that there are plans to rebuild many of its services around privacy-centric principles. His post also seems to make clear that Facebook sees the future of social networking to be very much centered around messaging and chat tools, with other social tools fading more into the background.

With this in mind, the aim is to learn from the way WhatsApp has evolved:

We plan to build this the way we've developed WhatsApp: focus on the most fundamental and private use case -- messaging -- make it as secure as possible, and then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services.

He says: "People want to be able to choose which service they use to communicate with people. 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. We want to give people a choice so they can reach their friends across these networks from whichever app they prefer. We plan to start by making it possible for you to send messages to your contacts using any of our services, and then to extend that interoperability to SMS too. Of course, this would be opt-in and you will be able to keep your accounts separate if you'd like".

Zuckerberg concedes that his social network does not have the greatest reputation when it comes to privacy:

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

Whether people are willing to give Facebook a chance -- or whether they've simply become used to the notions of mistrust and privacy invasions -- remains to be seen, but Zuckerberg says it is going to use 2019 to embark on a period of consultation.

There are six principles that Facebook sees as being key to moving forward:

  • Private interactions. People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share.
  • Encryption. People's private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone -- including us -- from seeing what people share on our services.
  • Reducing Permanence. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won't keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them.
  • Safety. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service.
  • Interoperability. People should be able to use any of our apps to reach their friends, and they should be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.
  • Secure data storage. People should expect that we won't store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.

While Zuckerberg is, once again, talking the talk, he will have an uphill battle to convince social networking users of Facebook's pivot to privacy. 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. The idea of a privacy-focused messaging platform is great in principle, but when it is proposed by a company that makes its billions through advertising and utilizing private data, healthy scepticism is to be expected.

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