This week Mark Zuckerberg announced on his blog a new vision for Facebook, social media, and the web. He wants to build a messaging platform that’s privacy-focused. He dives into the seven principles he wants to enforce: private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability, and secure data storage. He compares this space to a ‘private living room’ compared to the ‘town square’ approach to social media.
The Guardian response to Zuckerberg’s post illuminates that this would be done by integrating the messaging systems of Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.
I think there are two problems with this:
I can see the appeal of integrating the different messaging systems into an all-in-one platform. You don’t have to waste time checking multiple apps, you won’t have to worry about which platform to message a friend, etc. Personally, I would find this annoying as I use these apps for various purposes and check them at differing regularity. I don’t necessarily want the be seeing messages all the time from the various different networks of these apps.However, aside from my personal views, I think this new move allows Facebook to be an even more powerful factor in our lives. It wants to curate and shape our living room / private space as well. Not only that there are still problems that can occur in these so-called “private spaces”. For example, India will be having it’s presidential elections this year and it’s been dubbed the “Whatsapp elections”. Whatsapp is highly popular in India, and political parties have been recruiting these “cell phone volunteers” to create neighborhood Whatsapp groups to spread biased information around. The same issue with Facebook and the spread of misinformation can still occur on private messaging platforms like Whatsapp. According to the news article “The misuse of WhatsApp has been connected with at least 30 incidents of murder and lynching, for example following the circulation of children abduction rumors.”
- Ignoring the original problem
In his blog, Zuckerberg starts off his piece by saying:
“Over the last 15 years, Facebook and Instagram have helped people connect with friends, communities, and interests in the digital equivalent of a town square. But people increasingly also want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room.”
Sure, we want that! But judging from the reaction of the Cambridge Analytica scandal what people really want is their private data not to be sold to advertisers without our informed consent. It seems like Zuckerberg is ignoring the problem (or perhaps just trying to shift our focus) of Facebook’s data-surveillance business model and trying to grow and expand his already massive business by implementing a new platform. Data that was supposed to be only shared with our friends and family and people we chose to be on our Friends List was sold to third-party advertisers. How is creating a private messaging system going to solve that issue?
Facebook is not getting rid of the newsfeed… which I don’t think people want anyway. I think we still want to share things to a wide range of people. We just don’t want Facebook sharing our private data from our private profiles and from our apps. For example, Sophie shared an article with us about how apps like a menstrual-cycle tracking app and a heart rate app are sharing the data with Facebook who in turn sells this information to advertisers. We don’t want to stop using these apps – they can be really useful tools. We just don’t want it being shared without informed consent.
Overall, I think Mark Zuckerberg is not addressing the problem the public is criticizing him with and instead introducing new growth models for Facebook. I’m not sure if we’re gaining anything from this new policy move. Zuckerberg is obviously a smart guy. My personal thoughts are that he’s very aware of our growing fear around sharing information in public spaces now. He might also be forecasting a decline in using public spaces like Facebook and Instagram as more and more of the public gets to understand the data privacy issues. Therefore to keep his business growing, he’s trying to expand his services into the private communication sphere because until we become telepathic we’re still very much dependent on communicating with one another through technology.