What Facebook’s New Focus on Privacy Actually Changes

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has taken beating after beating in the past few years over a multitude of issues ranging from data breaches to fake accounts to assertions of being complicit in electioneering perpetrated by Russian trolls. Although Facebook has made privacy tweaks as well as given many reassurances that it will crack down on poor practices and perform more responsibly in the future, scandals have continued to emerge.

Now, however, Mark Zuckerberg has pledged that the company will begin doing far more to protect privacy across the board. Whether those changes will stick or experience effectiveness is yet unknown. One of Zuckerberg’s primary promises is to bolster the security of what its users share on their pages or through messenger by encrypting that data rather than relegating it to its servers where even deleted posts have continued life.

Additionally, Zuckerberg shared that future posts and conversations on its four properties – Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp – could be set to automatically delete after a period of time, similar to the model employed by Snapchat, a company Zuckerberg once attempted to buy. In his own words, Zuckerberg describes Facebook’s evolution as one from a “town square” experience to “the digital equivalent of the living room.”

Zuckerberg then shared that the principles influencing the company’s privacy paradigm change include fostering truly private interactions, encrypting data and then storing it securely, impermanent posts and, above all, safety for the platform’s users. In addition, Zuckerberg is looking to flatten the hand-offs between various Facebook-related platforms so users can easily connect.

In the near term, Facebook users may not see significant changes, which Zuckerberg believes may take years to develop. On the other side, businesses who use Facebook as both a marketplace and an outlet to highlight their offerings, may notice changes sooner. Whether a web development company or a church, high-end retailer or a school, both data collecting and user targeting through posts and ads will entail more hoops to jump through, higher levels of scrutiny and swifter repercussions for breaches and misconduct.

These changes may not endear Facebook to government entities due to new encryption standards. In fact, various governments around the world as well as agencies within the United States are actively campaigning for access to encrypted data in matters concerning terrorism, public safety and the exploitation of various laws. In addition, giving users the ability to have their posts self destruct after a certain time period may also hinder government operations and law enforcement investigations.

Zuckerberg, who was called to the capital in early 2018 to testify before Congress, was hammered by both sides of the aisle as he defended his organization and promised to do better. Now, one year later, his announced changes may finally address those lawmaker’s concerns but not without unintended consequences like encryption blocking government access to secured communications.

Ultimately, the changes, and whether they ever come to fruition, may offer everything and nothing in the way of privacy. Only time will tell.

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