Sahail Ashraf posted on 7 May 2019
If there’s one issue that Facebook has struggled with in recent months it’s privacy. The Cambridge Analytica scandal broke last year and caused a huge headache for Mark Zuckerberg’s company. Since that difficult period, Zuckerberg has been constantly reassuring users that his platform is safe and their data is secure. Facebook has introduced a slew of settings options that allow people to feel that their data is protected.
In March 2019, Zuckerberg took the whole thing in a new direction. He wrote a long piece about a new idea he has had. Essentially, he wants to make Facebook even safer, by encrypting content on the service. He announced that he will focus on making content encrypted across Facebook and it’s associated platforms, such as WhatsApp and Messenger.
What Zuckerberg seems to have forgotten about is that Facebook was originally meant to be open and accessible to anyone. His new approach will make the channel more ‘closed’ to outside agencies. Interestingly, he’s also considering making content encrypted so that even Facebook itself will not be able to view it.
In a post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said:
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.
It’s a lofty goal, and if Zuckerberg gets his way, it could easily change the way people use the platform, as well as how they use the Internet. Zuckerberg also hinted at what he’s probably been struggling with for some time: a recognition that Facebook is losing ground against other platforms the brand owns:
In a few years, I expect future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network. We’re focused on making both of these apps faster, simpler, more private and more secure, including with end-to-end encryption. We then plan to add more ways to interact privately with your friends, groups, and businesses. If this evolution is successful, interacting with your friends and family across the Facebook network will become a fundamentally more private experience.
This makes perfect sense. WhatsApp is now looking like the major player in messaging, with 2018 showing us that it was beating Facebook on monthly user numbers. Zuckerberg is seeing the significant changes among his platforms, and is actively looking to a future that will involve more WhatsApp and Messenger than it will Facebook.
This is a huge issue. At first, encryption of communications makes a lot of sense. But if you delve a little deeper into the concept, you’re looking at a situation that could easily become a moral minefield for Facebook.
Some governments simply do not allow encryption, for example. There are many complicated reasons for this, but some powerful, undemocratic governments simply cannot accept that social media would hide content that would be harmful to those that run the country.
At the same time, encryption can create a whole new set of problems. The argument that ‘bad actors’, or people who do bad things online, will be protected though encryption is a compelling one. Any bad actor who knows their content cannot be viewed by anyone or anything outside of their private Facebook will jump at the chance to spread worrying or dangerous content without any checks on behaviour.
That’s a really big problem. Facebook has, in the past, indirectly allowed some terrible videos to be posted online. Encryption will just make it easier and ‘safer’ for bad actors to create content that hurts others.
It’s too early to give a definitive answer to that question. If encryption does go ahead, it’s quite possible that it will be harder to access information through data. It’s also likely that Insights will be changed by Facebook. If encryption becomes a reality, how will brands be able to identify and use customer data?
The new ‘more private’ Facebook can effectively shut marketers out. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe it will just mean that marketing on Facebook becomes a little more difficult.
We anticipate that Zuckerberg and his team will offer a heavily-policed version of Facebook and it’s properties. It’ll be harder to find engagement, and it’s going to be a very controlled level of engagement. When one of the biggest and open platforms online announces that it will be focusing on making it’s platform more private, that has to be cause for alarm for brands and marketing teams.
However, we won’t truly know what this all means until Facebook tells us.
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