Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has said he believes secure, private messaging services will become more popular than open platforms.
In a blog, Mr Zuckerberg outlined his vision to transform Facebook into a “privacy-focused platform.”
Facebook owns Messenger and WhatsApp, but message encryption limits its ability to make money through targeted adverts.
In 2018, it emerged that the data of about 50 million users had been harvested and passed on to a political consultancy.
What did Mr Zuckerberg say?
“Facebook and Instagram have helped people connect with friends, communities, and interests in the digital equivalent of a town square,” said the billionaire founder of Facebook.
“But people increasingly also want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room.”
Mr Zuckerberg added that encrypted messaging will also create scope for new business tools, especially ones around online payments and commerce.
He did not offer a firm timeline for his vision, but said changes would take place “over the next few years”.
“I believe we should be working towards a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won’t all stick around forever. ”
“If we can help move the world in this direction, I will be proud of the difference we’ve made,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote.
You could argue that it is finally listening to what its users want and responding to their changing habits, rather than introducing its own ideas and then responding to the influx of feedback afterwards – seeking forgiveness rather than permission is not uncommon in the tech sector.
The shift to more intimate communications between smaller groups, making those conversations private even from Facebook itself, and no longer keeping data for a long period of time is no doubt designed to address the tech giant’s poor track record on privacy in recent times.
As Mark Zuckerberg himself notes: “Frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services”.
What’s the background to this?
Facebook has been sharply criticised in the past over lack of user privacy and the spread of offensive content and “fake news”.
Close to $80bn (£61bn) was wiped off Facebook’s share value in just days last March over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The UK-based consultancy was accused of misusing the data of millions of US Facebook members.
Cambridge Analytica denied using the data to aid US President Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016, and claims it had deleted the information in line with Facebook’s policies.
However, the company’s chief executive was soon suspended following further allegations.
Despite the scandal, Facebook says its user numbers have continued to grow. According to Facebook, the number of people who logged into its site at least once a month jumped 9% last year to 2.32 billion people.
User numbers in the US – its second-largest market – have fallen by 15m since 2017 however, according to market research firm Edison Research.