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Facebook Promises Encrypted Messaging (and Privacy-Abusing Business as Usual)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has written a lengthy blog post with the wonderfully self-serving title, “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking.” What Zuckerberg’s post really outlines, however, is the difference between messaging between small groups of people and “public social networking.” Zuckerberg focuses on the former, promising end-to-end encryption and ephemeral content and claiming that it’s a huge shift for Facebook.

But as analyst Ben Thompson of Stratechery points out, these changes would come in addition to Facebook’s current products, not in place of them. In essence, Facebook wants to have its cake and continue eating it (and your personal data) too. Although Facebook has a long history of lying about its privacy-abusing activities, I agree with Thompson that Zuckerberg is probably serious about improving the privacy of Facebook’s messaging products. Doing so doesn’t work against Facebook’s core business model, and it gives the company a response whenever Apple CEO Tim Cook beats the privacy drum.

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Comments About Facebook Promises Encrypted Messaging (and Privacy-Abusing Business as Usual)

Notable Replies

  1. Ben Thompson’s article is excellent. There are two other things that bother me about the announcement:

    Zuckerberg did not mention anything about a time frame or schedule for implementation of the encryption. He did when he announced the consolidation of Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook, which offer a tremendous increase in accurate, precision targeting opportunities for advertisers. And they announced recently that they are building a cryptocurrency exchange; it will be launched as part of WhatsApp. Facebook’s vectors for accumulating data will grow exponentially in the near term:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/28/technology/cryptocurrency-facebook-telegram.html

    There was nothing about if or how the company might be doing more to restrict hate speech, violent porn, etc. And I wonder if making communications more “private” and “encrypted” among smaller groups might 0 make it more difficult to screen and weed out objectionable content. Zuckerberg made a bid deal about how effective encryption has been in WhatsApp

  2. That’s a reasonable concern, and there’s no question encryption makes everything more protected. However, as long as Facebook retains the keys used for the encryption, it would always be able to decrypt the online communications when required by law. Apple resisted the FBI’s efforts to decrypt an actual iPhone, but will hand over iCloud data when required.

    My guess is that Facebook would act similarly. The only way to have truly secure online data storage is if you control your encryption key, and while that works with online backups, I can’t quite imagine how Facebook or the like would allow a random group to have its own encryption key.

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