This past week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a long blog post talking about his privacy vision. The tech community is weighing in with its varied reactions, but a lot of it comes down to a very simple question: Do we believe that Zuck wants to make it easier for people to have privacy?
While you might be screaming, “OF COURSE NOT,” remember that when we look at statements for analysis, we start with the premise that people mean what they say. They need to talk us out of believing them. Now, I’m not going to analyze the entire 3,000+ word statement, partly because I simply don’t have the time; nor will I analyze this to the fullest extent possible. What I can do, however, is offer a few things to note here.
In a statement where the author can begin where they like, talk about what they want to talk about, and in any manner they choose, the first paragraph, sentence, even the first word are critical, because it’s where they tell us their priority. Let’s take a look at the preface, so to speak, to his statement. The first sentence is the most important here:
My focus for the last couple of years has been understanding and addressing the biggest challenges facing Facebook.
If you just read that casually, you might take it to mean that he’s talking about any number of things. Keep a few things in mind:
- He doesn’t specify what these challenges are
- Facebook’s news coverage in the “last couple of years” has been anything but positive
From “combating fake news” (ensuring suppression of non-leftist viewpoints) to getting caught essentially spying on the entire world whether people like it or not, Facebook has certainly met some “challenges.” While we certainly can’t speak for Zuckerberg, these are things to note.
Let’s look at the principles he says his new platform will be based upon:
Private interactions. People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share.
Yes, they should. He does not, however, say that they will. There’s a difference. He is acknowledging that yes, people should have those things. He at no time here says that his platform will have those things.
Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services.
Yes, there’s that “should” word again. Now watch carefully — he switches gears here. By bringing up end-to-end encryption, he moves the reader’s focus from what should be happening, to something else. Read it again. “People’s stuff should be secure; by the way, end-to-end encryption prevents us from reading your stuff.” Does he say that the platform will have end-to-end encryption? No. He does not.
It’s worth noting that while WhatsApp does already have end-to-end, The Guardian pointed out way back in 2016 that all the encryption in the world doesn’t matter one iota if your phone is already compromised…which, by the way, it is.
Reducing Permanence. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won’t keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them.
Are you seeing a pattern yet? With this one, he attempts to give some reassurance but pay attention: “reducing” permanence is not “eliminating” permanence. He says the platform won’t keep messages or stories around (define ‘around’) for “longer than necessary to deliver the service.” What service, and to whom? If the service, for instance, is to provide data to marketers, government agencies, and other third parties, then how long is “necessary”?
Safety. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service.
People SHOULD expect safety…within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service. Now, you and I may tend to think of the safety aspect as something we are responsible for, not a website. But in this day and age, people expect everything around them to protect them personally, to keep them safe on an individual level. That’s not possible on anything internet-connected, when you really think about it. It sounds nice, though, doesn’t it?
Interoperability. People should be able to use any of our apps to reach their friends, and they should be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.
Yes, by all means, he says, use any of our apps to reach your friends. Use them all. Use them to communicate across networks all over the place.
Secure data storage. People should expect that we won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.
The big questions here are who defines what a “weak record” is on human rights? The UN Human Rights Council? That would be amusing, wouldn’t it? Almost like expecting the SPLC to actually tell you who and what constitutes a hate group. Also, what does Zuckerberg consider “improper access” of data? Again, without that definition, this means nothing.
Over the next few years, we plan to rebuild more of our services around these ideas. The decisions we’ll face along the way will mean taking positions on important issues concerning the future of the internet. We understand there are a lot of tradeoffs to get right, and we’re committed to consulting with experts and discussing the best way forward.
Planning to do something is not doing it. Discussing something, taking positions, etc., none of these cute phrases mean “we will accomplish.” When you say you plan to do something, you are allowing for the possibility that your plans could be derailed. Oops, sorry…I really had planned to do that.
When you plan to rebuild “more” of your services, you’re not rebuilding them all. And why would you? Some of your services are powering the most intrusive surveillance state in human history. But you’ll ‘take positions on important issues’ and whatnot. You’re committed to “consulting with experts and discussing the best way forward.” What is it that will actually get accomplished? What is the actual goal? Nothing.
Zuckerberg goes on for another few years, seemingly outlining the details. But again, read it carefully. The truth is right there in front of you.