Zuck The Privacy Defender. You're Kidding, Right?

Is it the cynic in me, or is anyone else seeing a political move in Mark Zuckerberg's decision to put privacy at the heart of Facebook?

On the face of it, it seems a straightforward enough announcement. All messages across its platforms will, like WhatsApp, be encrypted. Whether it is Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp, the messages will not be readable by a third party, including the platform owner. The headlines are that Facebook will take a revenue hit because the content of a message will be scrambled.

But there are three questions here.

Will Facebook truly not know who is logged on to its apps? Surely if I am logged on as I open up an app, they know exactly who I am? They might not be able to read my messages, but they really shouldn't be doing that anyway, should they? The ability to insert an ad in between conversations will not go away. Remember, Facebook has already been fined by the EU for combining WhatsApp and Facebook data and was recently rapped over the knuckles by the German competition authorities for sharing data between its three main apps. 

Secondly, if Facebook wants to act on privacy, shouldn't it be announcing a repermissioning campaign in the EU? It has multiple complaints already raised against what campaigners call "forced consent."

These guys seem to have a point. If you can't remember giving the granular, informed decision to each use of your personal information by the social media giant, it's for the very good reason that you probably just clicked "ok" to carry on using the service once GDPR became law. If the complaints raised against Facebook lead to full-blown investigations, the verdict will be fascinating and highly anticipated.

The third question is more a bit of out loud, cynical thinking. Zuckerberg's conversion from the enemy of privacy campaigners to claiming to have Facebook at the heart of his social media empire has come at the same time that he faces growing moves toward regulation. Being given a duty of care for its users would be a nightmare for Facebook and Instagram, upping the ante in its efforts to remove harmful content with the prospect of massive fines if action is not taken.

So governments are hitting Zuckerberg with his worst nightmare. One might wonder aloud, then, what the motivation behind encrypted messages is. The apps still know who you are when you're logged on, so relevant advertising can be displayed, but any government that wants to unravel the content of messages will be out of luck. The UK government has been vocal in its opposition to tech giants offering encrypted messages that cannot be intercepted, even if it is believed to contain evidence about a crime or terrorist activity. 

On the one hand, governments are giving Zuckerberg the nightmare of regulation being in the proverbial post, how about encrypted messaging to put a sting in the tail of the social giant's riposte?

Like I say, it could just be me the old cynic. But, then again, it can't just be me having question marks over Zuckerberg's apparent sudden conversion to privacy champion.

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