Facebook: Real privacy or just window dressing?
Facebook’s users need a reason to stay.
Prodded by sustained criticism, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to rebuild the social network to focus on private interactions, said Sarah Frier in Bloomberg.com. It’s a striking change for a company that has provided “the digital equivalent of a town square.” Now Zuckerberg wants you to feel like you are in your own living room, offering new options for encrypted messaging and spaces “that Facebook wouldn’t be able to monitor or police.” That vision seems to emulate China’s popular messaging service WeChat, said Li Yuan in The New York Times. Facebook’s business model relies on targeted advertising. But WeChat isn’t dependent on that. It has a mobile payments system that “allows people to shop, play games, pay utility bills, and order meal deliveries” through the app, and WeChat gets a commission from those sales. Facebook seems to be trying to follow suit.
Don’t expect Facebook to eliminate its most problematic features, said Brian Feldman in NYMag.com. Nobody on Wall Street is treating this as a drastic change. That’s probably because it’s not. Advertisers’ “primary tool for gaining attention, the News Feed, isn’t going away or changing substantially.” And Facebook is still going to be “able to target us with uncanny precision,” said Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal, even if our messages are encrypted. It will still know who we are, who we’re connected to, and when we are connecting. That’s “more than enough to characterize us to a breathtaking degree.” Promoting privacy is a “neat judo move.” Facebook can now wash its hands of privacy complications without altering the fundamental premise of its business model.
This a clever way to dress up a pivot to the kind of product Facebook needs to keep younger users, said Molly Wood in Wired.com. Facebook’s core product is collapsing. The News Feed is “a wasteland of reposted memories, divisive propaganda, and the occasional baby picture.” Facebook users are fleeing it by the millions. They want more personal interactions, controlled environments, and what made Facebook fun in the first place: talking to friends. Zuckerberg has promised to reshape Facebook before, and the plans “rarely take shape exactly as he describes them,” said Jacob Kastrenakes in TheVerge.com. But it’s clear that Zuckerberg is “shifting attention away” from all the trouble that those Friends lists and “Likes” have caused his company. The News Feed has been largely responsible for the “growing mistrust” about data privacy, the spread of misinformation, and the rise in incivility on the site. But what we’re getting is not so much a blueprint for a new Facebook as it is an acknowledgement that Zuckerberg sees he’s been behind the times and has to play catch-up. ■