Privacy & Security 3 min. read

Will Facebook really become a “privacy-focused” company?

Will Facebook really become a “privacy-focused” company?

Facebook’s credibility as a company that values user privacy is in tatters.

Even Mark Zuckerberg agrees, writing in a blog post that he plans to right the ship by morphing Facebook into a “privacy-focused” company.

You can almost hear the sarcastic grumbles emanating from behind keyboards worldwide. We’ve heard it all before. Why should we believe them now?

“I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform — because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing,” Zuckerberg said.

As Zuckerberg sees it, users are becoming increasingly focused on the security and privacy of their conversations. As it turns out, they don’t like their private data being sold, or their messages being monitored. They don’t want their personal photos hacked or their location data tracked.

As a company that protects user data, we at Hotspot Shield have seen this demand for years — and it’s been growing exponentially year-over-year; in 2017, we had 70 million new downloads of our Hotspot Shield app. In 2018, that number grew to 100 million.

Here’s what Zuckerberg now believes:

“People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won’t keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service. People should expect that we won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.”

What does this mean for Facebook?

Firstly, this is not a quick change. It will take many years for Zuckerberg’s vision to materialize. It’s akin to turning a 1,000 ft. cruise ship 180 degrees; once you turn the wheel, it takes a long time for the ship to actually move. Just watch the movie Titanic.

For starters, we can expect Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram to integrate more seamlessly together, with encryption for private communication being the name of the game. Expect content to not live on its servers for longer than it needs to, so a post you made 10 years ago won’t come back to haunt you in a job interview later in life.

Expect the transitions to be subtle. Facebook says they will not develop the strategy behind closed doors; rather they’ll be transparent, open, and collaborative.

Zuckerberg likens the way Facebook operates today as the digital equivalent of a town square. He sees it evolving into more like a digital living room, where people have the freedom to be themselves and connect with friends without the fear of prying eyes — be it hackers, criminals, over-reaching governments, or even Facebook itself.

In short, Zuckerberg wants a platform that stems first from user privacy. Its services — like messaging, organizing fundraisers, buying and selling things, payments, in-home video devices, and whatever else it brings to market — will be built with end-to-end encryption and user privacy as the backbone.

Do we believe them?

Facebook has had a habit of saying how it’ll change, only to face new scandals seemingly days later. Execs have been leaving the company in droves. In one breath, Zuckerberg says he wants to make Facebook “privacy-focused,” but in the other, he says he wants to develop a machine to “read your mind.” And according to a new study by Edison, Facebook is bleeding U.S users by the millions.

Frankly, it’s too soon to tell whether we can take Zuckerberg’s plea to make its company privacy-focused seriously. After all, the company makes money by buying and selling user data — that, in a nutshell, is its business model. Will it really turn its back on this? Or is this merely talk to deflect, making its messaging apps private and secure but still keeping its ad business in full force behind the scenes?

It will take a while to know for sure. At this point, the ship hasn’t yet started to turn.

At Hotspot Shield, we believe every person should have private and secure access to information around the world. That’s why our free app encrypts your WiFi connection at the touch of button, keeping your sensitive data safe.

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