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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.

  3. With regard to Facebook lying about its privacy-abusing activities, a few more headlines have just popped up:

  4. The cynic in me wonders why anybody even bothers being surprised by any of this. How many have stopped using FB because of their repeated privacy violations? The company faces near-zero consequences for their behavior so why would anybody expect them to ever change?

  5. Yeah, no surprises. I post this stuff because I think it’s important that people who aren’t in the know learn just how evil Facebook is. The only consequence that’s going to make any difference at all is users getting fed up and leaving.

  6. Simon

        April 20
    

    The cynic in me wonders why anybody even bothers being surprise by any of this. How many have stopped using FB because of their repeated privacy violations? The company faces near-zero consequences for their behavior so why would anybody expect them to change?

    I never signed up for Facebook, and I was shocked to find out how much they track people who were never members, as well as ex Facebook members. They track browsing history of members and non members on and off site:

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-privacy-tracking/facebook-fuels-broad-privacy-debate-by-tracking-non-users-idUSKBN1HM0DR

    For non and ex members, like me, they create “shadow profiles,” though Zuckerberg & Co. hate this term:

    https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/11/17225482/facebook-shadow-profiles-zuckerberg-congress-data-privacy

    The US congress has been talking about regulation, but nothing has happened so far. What’s being currently under discussion doesn’t sound very comprehensive, but it would be better than nothing for the time being:

    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/09/new-senate-bill-would-ban-a-deceptive-practice-used-by-facebook-to-get-users-contact-data.html

    In addition to the EU’s GDPR, which is millions of miles ahead of the US, and Britain, Australia and other EU countries are expanding their regulations on privacy, hate speech and violence.

  7. FWIW, the FTC has an active investigation against Facebook right now, is talking about a multi-billion dollar fine, as well as holding Mark Zuckrberg personally responsible for data breaches. (Facebook is under a 2011 consent decree through 2031 that is supposed to prevent sharing user private data without consent.)

  8. ddmiller
    Doug Miller
    April 21

    FWIW, the FTC has an active investigation against Facebook right now, is talking about a multi-billion dollar fine, as well as holding Mark Zuckrberg personally responsible for data breaches. (Facebook is under a 2011 consent decree through 2031 that is supposed to prevent sharing user private data without consent.)

    This could be good news, but my cynical side can’t help but wonder how much lobbying will influence the outcome. But I also wonder if Zuckerberg will have to consider resigning his CEOship like Bill Gates did in the wake of the Microsoft antitrust Supreme Court ruling.

  9. Don’t get me wrong, Adam. I think it’s great you guys put a spotlight on this kind of stuff.

    I was rather thinking about the kind of oh-my-gosh-you-won’t-believe-what-FB-just-did kind of reporting I hear on the radio or TV around here. This is a you reap what you sow situation. So to all the sheep who keep uploading their content to FB (“that’s how I stay in touch with great aunt Mildred”) and help make Zuck richer and more invincible all I can say is, well, you had it coming.

  10. Ah, yes. I never pay attention to mainstream media apart from tech-literate outlets, so I have very little idea of what’s said there.

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