Facebook Squares Up to Law Enforcers with New Privacy Focus

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Mark Zuckerberg has detailed his vision for the future of Facebook: a “privacy-focused” messaging and social platform which will see the News Feed marginalized as users switch to encrypted WhatsApp and Messenger communications.

The new privacy-centric platform he hopes to build over the course of the next few years will be focused around several key principles: private interactions; end-to-end encryption; “reducing permanence”; safety; interoperability; and secure data storage.

“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,” said Zuckerberg in a lengthy post.

“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.”

The new focus could see the firm come under increasing pressure from law enforcers and politicians, for whom end-to-end encryption means more dark spaces for criminals to hide in.

Zuckerberg’s olive branch to them was heavily caveated: he claimed the firm would work with the authorities to help prevent “terrible things” online “wherever we can.” He said Facebook is also improving its ability to “identity and stop bad actors” by detecting patterns and through unnamed “other means.” But that may not be enough for many lawmakers, although it should be a hit with users and privacy advocates.

Zuckerberg also committed not to building datacenters in countries with a track record for violating human rights, which would seem to suggest it is resigned never to operating in China, and will face outright bans in places like Russia that are demanding local data stores.

“Upholding this principle may mean that our services will get blocked in some countries, or that we won't be able to enter others anytime soon,” he admitted. “That's a trade-off we're willing to make. We do not believe storing people's data in some countries is a secure enough foundation to build such important internet infrastructure on.”

Although there was no mention of misinformation, fake news or “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in the blog post, there could also be question marks around how easy it will be for Facebook to stop such activity if it shifts from relatively public online spaces like News Feed to private encrypted chats.

The social network revealed last month that it was deleting two million WhatsApp accounts per month to try and halt the spread of disinformation on the app. The Indian government has claimed that rumors spread via the platform have led to multiple mob lynchings in the country.

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