Thoughts on Facebook’s “privacy” pivot

Osma Ahvenlampi
Mar 10, 2019 · 4 min read

I held off on the Facebook announcement until I’d have time to read what they’re up to now.. Here’s what I think now that I had the time. This post is an edit of my Twitter thread.

This doesn’t read like a vision [Mark on FB]. It’s an incrementalist response to a few topics Mark has picked as repeating critique, designed for continuation of the old attention-grab vision.

Reducing permanence reads “it seems people interact with Stories as much as they did with Status, so it’s ok for our ad sales to double down on it.” It’s obfuscating an old maxim that has never gone away: what you put on Internet will stay on Internet.

Encryption and Safety is nothing more than responsibility shift. “You see, when the message is encrypted, we can’t moderate it, which explains why we have no moderation. Abuse is someone else’s problem.”

Interoperability is just insulting. “Our messaging tools will allow you to speak with everyone else using our messaging tools.” Not even the old Telcos were this arrogant. But perhaps you will be able to WhatsApp someone on Signal or WeChat — for a long-distance fee.

Secure Data Storage is not change at all. Facebook has always centralized data into their datacenters, mostly to be able to conveniently data-mine it. Mark is just trying to virtue-signal this as “we won’t have data centers where we might lose access to them.”

Note how the post only mentions buying and payments in passing, never signaling this is a significant part of their new vision, itself a copy of WeChat. This is the REAL strategy [NYT]. Grabbing payment streams works better over messaging than a public feed.

Here’s how that works for people who can’t or don’t want to participate [BusinessInsider]. Current solutions are local. Using Swish without a Swedish bank account is not possible. And so on, also in large markets.

A global payment solution would certainly be welcome. Do we want that to be controlled by Mark Zuckerberg? I am not sure that’s a great idea.

Low friction access to payments is important for both consumers and to-be businesses. Interoperability is key to such platform. Handing control to just one party would be a terrible outcome. Facebook’s centralized ambition is not desirable for the rest of us.

Nor is it very credible that Facebook would be a good guardian for such a platform. But there SHOULD be a guardian. Someone to provide fraud and risk management, someone to watch over money laundering, and so forth. An open blockchain like Bitcoin is not a solution.

Fortunately such services do exist. Out of existing companies, some I would trust to create more secure, interoperable and accessible platforms for payment, in alphabet order: Adyen, iZettle, Stripe, Square, TransferWise.

On the consumer side, these already interoperate with tools in almost everyone’s wallets: Apple Pay, Google Pay, Mastercard, Visa.

Unbanked aren’t yet covered. That opportunity is being chased by many too. Rather obviously, most of those are local.

Zuckerberg’s argument on privacy, safety and security rests on his centralized tenet. This is not a credible position. Facebook has a strong security team, but ALL centralized platforms have vulnerabilities and hacks. Latest for Facebook: Messenger accidentally revealed who you contact [The Verge].

A truly secure and private platform will be secure and private even when it is distributed. For example, Signal Protocol. Notably, both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger do use this protocol, but not interoperably. This demonstrates Mark’s true motivation.

Or as @kkakaes writes: “If his plan succeeds, it would mean that private communication between two individuals will be possible when Mark Zuckerberg decides that it ought to be.” [MIT Technology Review].

I don’t necessarily support the argument that Facebook should be broken up. But I definitely support the argument that we should resist every attempt of Facebook to grow its reach. Only when it is done via open access should it be permitted by consumers and regulators alike.

Yes, it will be difficult to reconcile federated messaging, privacy, authenticity and some level of limits over control of misinformation. A completely private platform with unlimited virality is not a good thing, as we saw last summer when WhatsApp has instrumental in inciting lynch mobs [BBC].

WhatsApp was able to add some friction to that situation by limiting how many copies of a message could be shared. A fully interoperable network might be difficult to manage in that regard. Difficult, but possible. We shouldn’t settle for anything less.

Will end this with one more link. @MikeIsaac seems to have concluded about the same as I did: Mark’s “vision” for Facebook is to copy WeChat [NY Times]. At face value, perhaps a sound business decision. Not too visionary though.


Building products with data