By Carlo Versano
Nearly a year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded into public view and severely damaged Facebook's reputation for guarding user privacy, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was pivoting from the very vision that made the company into the social media behemoth it is today.
Zuckerberg, in a lengthy Facebook post ($FB), said he believes the future of online communication is in "private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won't stick around forever. "
That is a fundamental change to the open-posting ethos on which Facebook was founded 15 years ago, and it indicates that Zuckerberg is at least aware of his company's battered image when it comes to privacy.
"This is more or less a way for them to get out there and try to gain consumers' trust back again," said Jason Moser, senior analyst at The Motley Fool.
Zuckerberg outlined at least the beginning of a pivot ー saying Facebook would integrate Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp to allow users to communicate across those platforms with the benefit of encryption. But Moser noted that Facebook is, at its core, "an advertising business pure and simple," and it was unclear how it planned to monetize private messaging in a way that would make it a feasible business strategy.
One potential way would be to add an e-commerce or payments service, Moser said, but both of those require users to trust the service with highly sensitive data like credit card numbers. Has Facebook shown it can be trusted with that kind of information?
"Privacy really runs counter to the DNA of the company," Moser said. Zuckerberg even admitted as much in his post, writing: "[F]rankly we don't currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we've historically focused on tools for more open sharing."
Moser credited Zuckerberg with at least recognizing the worldwide trend toward more private forms of communication, but said he found his post too noncommittal. A decade from now, he said, social media as a whole is going to look "materially different" from what it is today. This may be the first step in that journey, but for today, "it's about gaining back users' trust."
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