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Mark Zuckerberg outlines a 'privacy-focused' revamp of Facebook

It comes as Facebook is grappling with its legacy of data problems.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
March 6, 2019
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Facebook doesn't have a sterling reputation for privacy given its numerous data scandals, and Mark Zuckerberg wants to address it. In a reflection of what he said during a recent fiscal results call, the CEO outlined plans to rework more of Facebook's services around a "privacy-focused" approach over the next few years. This includes "simple, intimate" places where no one else can see your data, the use of end-to-end encryption, a reduced amount of permanent content, greater safety and secure data storage. Zuckerberg also vowed more interoperability between apps and networks.

Zuckerberg saw WhatsApp as the template for these changes. It's a secure messaging platform first, and includes features built on top of that foundation. The executive suggested that it ultimately represented the "future of communication," where you can be sure that whatever you say is both protected and impermanent.

He also acknowledged the skepticism surrounding any privacy-oriented approaches at Facebook, noting that many wouldn't believe that it would want to reform its services. "Frankly we don't currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services," Zuckerberg said. However, he stressed that Facebook has "repeatedly" evolved to create features people would want, and that the new privacy push would be open and collaborative.

This could include some tough decisions, too. Zuckerberg acknowledged that refusing to store sensitive data in countries with poor human rights records could lead to being blocked or excluded. It's a "tradeoff we're willing to make," he said. In short, don't expect Facebook to honor Russia's insistence on storing data inside the country.

Provided the strategy works as promised, it's a significant shift in strategy for a company virtually synonymous with data gathering and sharing. To some extent, though, this is as much about Facebook's long-term survival as anything else. The company apologizes for privacy issues on an all-too-frequent basis, and its already bruised reputation has taken a beating. If Facebook doesn't put a greater emphasis on privacy, it risks falling out of favor with the public or having to abide by strict regulations. A move now could save it plenty of pain later on.

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