Zuckerberg’s focus for the past two years has been understanding and addressing the biggest challenges facing Facebook. This entails taking sides on crucial issues pertaining to the development of the Internet. In this note, he describes his vision and principles around building a messaging system that focuses on privacy for social networks. There is a lot to do here, and Facebook is committed to working openly and consulting with experts during development.
Over the past 15 years, Facebook and Instagram have helped people connect with friends, communities and interests in the digital equivalent of the town square. But more and more people also want to connect to the digital and more private equivalent of the living room. As Zuckerberg thinks about the future of the Internet, he believes that a privacy-focused communication platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms. Privacy for social networks gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect in a more natural way. This is actually the reason that social networks are built.
Today we already see that private messages, stories, and small groups are undoubtedly the fastest growing areas of online communication. There are several reasons for this. Many people favour the intimacy of speaking with just one other person or a small group of pals. People are more careful when they have a permanent record of what they’ve shared. And we all expect to be able to do things like private and secure payments.
Public social networks will continue to be very important in people’s lives – connecting with everyone we know, discovering new people, ideas and content, and giving people a wider voice. But now, with all the ways there are, people also want private interaction and so there is also an opportunity to build a simpler platform that focuses first and foremost on privacy.
Zuckerberg understands that many people don’t think Facebook can or even wants to build this privacy-focused platform — because, frankly, it doesn’t have much of a reputation for protecting privacy, and past actions show that Facebook is focusing on tools for more open sharing. But Facebook has shown time and time again that it can evolve to build the services people really want, including private messaging and stories.
Zuckerberg believes that the future of communication will move more and more to private and encrypted services, where people can be sure that what they say to each other remains secure and their messages and content will not remain forever. This is the future he hopes to bring to everyone.
Facebook plans to build the private platform the way WhatsApp developed. The focus was on the most basic and private use case – messaging. Make it as safe as possible, and then build more ways for people to communicate on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, business, payments, commerce, and eventually a platform for many other types of private services.
This privacy-focused platform will be developed on the following tenets:
Private interactions. People need to have simple and intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else will have access there.
Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents people – including Facebook – from seeing what people share on their services.
Reducing tenure. People should feel comfortable being themselves, and they shouldn’t worry that what they share will come back to hurt them later. Therefore messages or stories will not be kept for longer than necessary to provide the service or longer than people want.
Safety. People should expect that Facebook will do everything it can to keep them safe on its services within the limits of what is possible with an encrypted service.
interoperability. People need to be able to use all of Facebook’s apps to reach their friends, and they need to be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.
Secure data storage. People should expect that Facebook will not store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights such as privacy for social networks and freedom of expression to protect data.
Over the next few years, Facebook plans to rebuild its services around these ideas. The decisions that will stand along the way will lead to taking positions on important issues concerning the future of the Internet and they are obliged to consult with experts and discuss the best way to move forward. It will take some time, but they are not going to develop the big change behind closed doors. They are going to do this as openly and cooperatively as possible, because many of these issues affect different parts of society.
This contrasts with larger social networks where users can add friends or followers until the services appear to be more open to the public. It is ideal for a variety of crucial tasks, including informing all of your friends about something, speaking out on crucial issues, locating groups of people who share interests, buying and selling items, planning fundraisers, expanding businesses, and many other tasks that everyone you know should have in place. However, when you put all of these experiences together, it resembles a town square rather than a smaller chamber like a living room.
There is an opportunity to build a platform that focuses on all the ways people want to communicate privately. This feeling of privacy and intimacy is not only about technical features – it is designed deep into the feeling of the overall service. At WhatsApp, for example, their social media experts are obsessed with creating an intimate environment in every aspect of the product. Even when we’ve built features that allow for wider sharing, it’s still a less public experience. When the team built groups, they put a size limit to make sure each interaction was considered private. When stories were sent on WhatsApp, public content was restricted because there was concern that it might erode the sense of privacy, even though it didn’t actually change who you were sharing with.
In a few years, Zuckerberg plans future versions of WhatsApp and Messenger to become the primary ways people communicate on the Facebook network. The focus is on making these two apps faster, simpler, more private and more secure, including end-to-end encryption. After that, Facebook plans to add more ways to interact privately with friends, groups and businesses. If this evolution is successful, interacting with friends and family on Facebook will become a fundamentally more private experience.