Is Facebook finally going to get serious about privacy?

Zuckerberg is getting serious about Facebook's privacy policy, or is he?
Image: Facebook

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to enact sweeping reforms at the embattled social network. The billionaire’s new agenda is to transform Facebook into a privacy-focused organization. However, can the world trust Zuckerberg to keep his word following years of privacy scandals?

In his March 8 blog post, the social media company head outlined a new vision for Facebook as a platform defined by privacy and security. Zuckerberg stated he wants uniform end-to-end encryption for all of Facebook’s products, including WhatsApp and Instagram. The executive also mentioned he wants communication through the platform to be less permanent. To that end, the company will make messages self-delete after a month or a year by default.

Zuckerberg’s state of the platform address also included pledges to make user data more secure. By that, the executive meant Facebook won’t store data in countries with poor human rights records. Moreover, he excepts this new standard will make the company unwelcome in certain parts of the world. He also explained that Facebook will work with “experts, law enforcement and governments” to make the platform safer to use.

The Silicon Valley CEO also made mention of cross-network interoperability. As such, Facebook users will be able to send messages to friends with WhatsApp accounts and vice versa. Wisely, Zuckerberg did not mention a firm timeline for these massive changes. Instead, the White Plains, New York native wrote he plans to completely transform his corporation, “over the next few years.”

Should the World Believe Mark Zuckerberg?

Mark Zuckerberg’s promises of a more secure Facebook sound nice, but there are many reasons to distrust the tech industry titan. For one thing, there’s everything the Zuck has said about piracy in the past 16 years. He’s talked about the importance of privacy and user control again and again. And then when a major scandal breaks, he apologizes and makes contrite pledges to do better in the future.

But the Cambridge Analytica affair, the Privacy International disclosure, and the Google shutdown of Facebook prove the company isn’t interested in protecting privacy. The corporation wants what all businesses want; to make money. The firm’s core business is using its insights into its user’s personal lives to sell things.

Notably, Facebook is doing strong business despite its many scandals. The company lost $12 billion in one day after Cambridge Analytica’s actions came to light. But the company rallied and actually beat analysts’ expectations for its financial performance by the end of the year. No matter what Mark Zuckerberg says, his company won’t start getting serious about privacy unless there are real consequences for failing to do so.

As it happens, those consequences might arrive as soon as 2020.

The Federal Government is Paying Attention

On March 8, senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren unveiled a plan to enact sweeping reforms in the technology sector. However, as opposed to Mr. Zuckerberg, her plans were a lot more concrete and direct. Essentially, Warren wants to break up companies like Facebook, in part because of their negative effect on American life and industry.

Unintentionally, the corporation just gave Warren more fuel for the fire. Senator Warren’s campaign recently bought advertisements on Facebook warning that the social media platform and other tech companies “have vast power over our economy and our democracy.” Facebook quickly took the ads down.

The corporation claimed it pulled the Democratic politician’s ads because they used the corporation’s logo, which is a policy violation. However, Warren contends what the company did was censorship, and the platform shouldn’t have the ability to stifle public discourse. The Congresswoman isn’t alone in her skepticism of Big Tech. Recently, elected officials from both sides of the aisle have called for new regulations to be imposed on the technology sector.

The fact is, if the social media service wants to act as a de facto utility, the public could benefit from it being regulated like one. Because it’s become clear that Facebook won’t get serious about issues like privacy on their own.