Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has written a detailed post on his personal page, highlighting that the future of the social network lies in investing in private chats, with a focus on end-to-end encryption across products. Previously, it has been reported that Zuckerberg is looking at integrating WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram Messaging and the new post make its clear that this will be happening in the future.
According to Zuckerberg, “privacy-focused communications platform” will be more important given this is what users want and that more of them are now “cautious of having a permanent record of what they’ve shared.”
The Facebook CEO has acknowledged in his post that many might not be convinced by the company’s argument of building a “privacy-focused platform,” given the history of the social network. He admits the company does not “currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing.”
Zuckerberg on end-to-end encryption, interoperability
Facebook already owns WhatsApp which has default end-to-end encryption for all chats, and Messenger also has an option for secret chat, which is end-to-end encrypted. But under the plans Facebook is looking at more ‘interoperability’ within its platforms, while preserving encryption.
It basically wants to give people a choice to reach their friends across Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, from whichever app they prefer. This is a clear indication that Facebook is working on integrating all three. In fact, on Messenger, we already saw an option to log in via our Instagram account.
“With the ability to message across our services, however, you’d be able to send an encrypted message to someone’s phone number in WhatsApp from Messenger,” points out Zuckerberg.
He further writes, “With interoperability, you’d be able to use WhatsApp to receive messages sent to your Facebook account without sharing your phone number….” It would be possible for users to send messages to their contacts using any of Facebook’s services.
The company wants to later extend this interoperability to SMS too, though the the SMS feature will be opt-in. In the past, Facebook has faced flak for how its Android app for Messenger was keeping a track of users’ call log and data, via this linking with SMS feature. This was seen as a major privacy violation.
Facebook had later insisted this was an opt-in feature, and users knew what permission they were granting to the Messenger app. This is also explains why Zuckerberg had written that the feature will be opt-in and users will be able to keep their accounts separate if they prefer.
Zuckerberg’s on letting content expire, disappear
According to Zuckerberg, reducing permanence will mean that the company won’t keep “messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service” or “longer than people want them.”
The Facebook CEO mentions that they are exploring the idea of letting content “automatically expire” or one where it is “archived over time.” The Facebook says that just like Stories expire after 24 hours, unless archived by the user, is a “philosophy that could be extended to all private content.”
The idea is nothing new really. All private messages on Snapchat expire after 24 hours, and if Facebook were to introduce this, it could mean more bad news for the messaging app, which has already had most of its key features copied by the social media giant.
Zuckerberg further gives examples of how “messages could be deleted after a month or a year by default.”
“This would reduce the risk of your messages resurfacing and embarrassing you later. Of course you’d have the ability to change the timeframe or turn off auto-deletion for your threads if you wanted. And we could also provide an option for you to set individual messages to expire after a few seconds or minutes if you wanted,” he wrote. Again many apps like Wire, Signal, Telegram offer the option for disappearing messages or setting timers on individual messages.
It also looks like Facebook will reduce storage of metadata, which is crucial especially when identifying spam accounts. The Facebook CEO admits they don’t always need to keep it around for a long time.
Zuckerberg on data storage
The Facebook CEO has also addressed the issue of data storage. Zuckerberg said that the company has “chosen not to build data centers in countries that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”
“If we build data centers and store sensitive data in these countries, rather than just caching non-sensitive data, it could make it easier for those governments to take people’s information. Upholding this principle may mean that our services will get blocked in some countries, or that we won’t be able to enter others anytime soon,” he wrote. This is a tradeoff Facebook is willing to make, according to him.
“We do not believe storing people’s data in some countries is a secure enough foundation to build such important internet infrastructure on,” he wrote. He adds that just like WhatsApp doesn’t store any encryption keys, Facebook will do the same with other services in the future.
“We increasingly believe it’s important to keep information around for shorter periods of time. People want to know that what they share won’t come back to hurt them later, and reducing the length of time their information is stored and accessible will help,” adds the post.
Zuckerberg on tackling bad actors, managing privacy
However, Facebook admits it will also have to make sure that bad actors do not misuse the privacy offered by end-to-end encryption for criminal activities like child pornography, terrorism, cyber-crime, etc, and this is not an easy challenge to solve, especially while balancing privacy.
“We are working to improve our ability to identify and stop bad actors across our apps by detecting patterns of activity or through other means, even when we can’t see the content of the messages, and we will continue to invest in this work,” he wrote.
“We’ve started working on these safety systems building on the work we’ve done in WhatsApp, and we’ll discuss them with experts through 2019 and beyond before fully implementing end-to-end encryption,” writes the Facebook CEO.
According to the post, Facebook will rebuild more of its services around these ideas. “We’re going to do this as openly and collaboratively as we can because many of these issues affect different parts of society,” he adds.
He also said Facebook has no intention of compromising the expectation of encryption that people already have using WhatsApp, even with interoperability.