CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg just had his Jerry Maguire moment. In his mid 30s and at the height of his career Zuckerberg has released an about face mission statement for the future of his company. That’s where the metaphor ends though. Unlike Tom Cruise’s character Zuckerberg won’t be getting fired given his 53.3% of voting rights in the company. And I don’t think he should. As I read his mission statement, I’m reminded of what a survivor Zuckerberg is and what a hypocrite Apple has become.
Between Zuckerberg’s decisions to acquire Instagram, WhatsApp, and downright stealing the features of Snapchat he has proved ruthless in ensuring the future of his company. His next bet is that the “the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever.” The focus is shifting from “a digital equivalent of a town square…[to] the digital equivalent of the living room.” No longer will the focus be on sharing with all your “friends” but only certain things with certain groups. Ironically, this was the exact stated goal of “Circles” in the now defunct Google Plus when it launched in 2011:
Not all relationships are created equal. So in life we share one thing with college buddies, another with parents, and almost nothing with our boss. The problem is that today’s online services turn friendship into fast food—wrapping everyone in “friend” paper—and sharing really suffers.Google Plus Announcement, 2011
I think Zuckerberg is dead on with this shift in focus. As I look at my own social networking and those around me, it includes private email threads and more extensively group chats. It’s the latter that Facebook is now setting their sights on. As a society we tried the share everything with everyone thing and it was all new, fresh, fun, and internety. But all of a sudden everything got so real. People realized that as “we build up large collections of messages and photos over time, they can become a liability.” So now, now we go underground.
A privacy first mission is only possible with end to end encryption coupled with the keys never leaving your device. A point Zuckerberg made clear is going to be the modus operandi for their services going forward. Along with the plan they “won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights” which “may mean that [their] services will get blocked in some countries…a tradeoff [they’re] willing to make.” This shines a bright light on the hypocrisy of Apple which “if you have iCloud Backup turned on, your backup includes a copy of the key protecting your Messages” and more egregiously “iCloud services in the mainland of China are now operated by Chinese internet services company Guizhou…this allows us to…comply with Chinese regulations.” Which means the human rights abusing dictatorship that is the government of China has full access to the data of their citizens.
Google received serious flack for the rumored Project Dragonfly which sought to create a censored version of Google Search that complied with Chinese regulations. Facebook receives little credit for bringing secure end to end encrypted messaging to more users than any company in history with WhatsApp. Meanwhile Apple is working directly with the Chinese government and still gets credit for caring more about its users’ privacy much more than any other tech company.
Apple still deserves credit for their device encryption made famous in the San Bernadino case, their hard stance against the FBI to not build a backdoor in iPhone, the security around Apple Pay and most recently the new Apple Card credit card. And Facebook is certainly not without sin with its history of privacy abuses. It remains to be seen whether Facebook will even cary out the plan outlined by Zuckerberg. But the focus of this publication is to shine a light on the issues where there is the biggest disconnect between public perception and reality. This includes covering what the world’s most profitable companies actually do versus what the public gives them credit for.