– Last year, we found out
that for the past three years, Facebook had been deleting the messages of Mark Zuckerberg and
some other executives and in the controversy that followed, the company promised that it would then allow all of us to do
exactly the same thing. Imagine my surprise this week, when Mark Zuckerberg
announced that he was going to lean hard into privacy. It’s a lot of talk. It was 3,200 words in a blog
post that Zuckerberg wrote. To understand what it all means, we’re going to have to
look at the big picture. So what did Mark Zuckerberg
actually say in his blog post? He said he wanted to bring
end to end encryption to all of Facebook’s messaging products. That means Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct. One of the things that
he says in his blog post is that encryption
limits services like ours from seeing the content
flowing through them and makes it much harder for anyone else to access your information. And once your messages
are end to end encrypted, that means that no one from
Facebook or the government will ever be able to
understand the contents of your messages. The second major thing
that was in the blog post was the idea that your messages should no longer be permanent. Zuckerberg speculated that in the future, your messages on Facebook
would disappear by default, after a certain period of time. You could choose to keep
them if you wanted to but just like on Snapchat, how messages disappear when you read them, if you wanted your
Facebook to feel like that, all of a sudden, it could. So with those two ideas out there, Facebook says it is going
to rally around privacy in a way that it never has before. If you’ve read a story about
Facebook in the past year, chances are it was
about a privacy scandal, whether it was Cambridge
Analytica last spring or the biggest data breach
in company history last fall. So when Zuckerberg says
that privacy is now the most important thing to Facebook, a lot of people are skeptical. But let’s say that you believe Zuckerberg, what would that mean for
Facebook and the rest of us? Well, one of the things that he says is in the future, we’re going to want the world to feel less like a town square and more like a living room, so less yelling in pubic,
more talking to your friends. If that’s true, it has a lot of big implications for Facebook. Number one, the news feed
is no longer the most important part of the site. Think about what a big deal that is. The news feed is synonymous with Facebook. It’s by far the biggest money
making product at the company. If we’re no longer looking
at the news feed every day, Facebook is a much different business than it ever has been before. Today, Facebook makes
it’s money by effectively renting it’s users
attention to advertisers. In an encrypted messaging app, an advertiser can’t see who you are or what you might be interested in, nearly as well as they used to be. Instead, Facebook wants to give businesses an opportunity to let
us buy and sell things from within a Messenger or a WhatsApp. There’s still a lot of details
that need to be worked out. So, in a world where apps are encrypted, not only can advertisers
not see into your messages, governments can’t as well. If governments can’t access
the content of user’s messages, they’re going to have
a lot to say about it. We’ve already seen countries
like Vietnam and Russia pass laws requiring
companies like Facebook to store any data that
Facebook is collecting about their citizens locally, presumably so that they can
more easily access that data. Facebook is now saying hey, our apps are gonna be encrypted, there’s just not gonna be
a lot for you to look into. And Zuckerberg speculates
that Facebook is actually going to be banned in these countries. And then there’s China. One of Mark Zuckerberg’s
biggest dreams over the years is that Facebook would
become one of the few American companies to really
be able to thrive in China. But now that the company is going to enable encrypted messaging,
that seems impossible. So encryption has benefits. Advertisers can’t target you, governments can’t read what you’re saying, there are some real
drawbacks to conversation moving from the town
square to the living room. It’s going to be harder
to know what people are saying about the politics
inside their own country. We’ve already seen this
in Brazil and India, two countries where
WhatsApp is very popular. Misinformation has spread rapidly there, inside these closed groups and researchers have had a hard time
keeping track of exactly what’s being said. So one result of this encryption might be less visibility into
the public discussion. It’s trade-offs, all the way down. This all may come to nothing,
but if it really happens, all of a sudden, Facebook
is a very different company. When I say Facebook, you
probably think news feed. In the future when I say Facebook, you might think a group text, you might think a small
group that you’re in and you might never visit
the news feed at all. So how do we feel about the newer, more privacy friendly Facebook? Well, privacy has a lot of benefits. There are many of us out
there who just wanna talk with our friends and our
family and our co-workers, without worrying that
whatever we’re saying is going to come back to haunt us. The fact that Facebook is
enabling a new way of doing that, is pretty exciting. At the same time, Mark
Zuckerberg has a history of making grand pronouncements
that never come true. Four years ago, he told us the news feed was gonna transform into video. Two years ago, he published a manifesto saying Facebook was going to
build social infrastructure, whatever that means, and whether this new, private Facebook comes
into being against some very long odds, is still anyone’s guess. So what do you think, you all? Are you gonna be more
likely to use Facebook once it’s end to end encrypted anywhere? Let us know in the comments, and if you want to know
way more about Facebook, did you know I write a daily newsletter about social networks and democracy? You can find it at theverge.com/interface.