Zuckerberg Resurrects Value of Privacy: Silly Us, We Thought It Was Dead

In 1999, CEO Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems prophesied the future with this quote: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Facebook CEO has tried to get under and around privacy, earning billions in the process. Now he wants to resurrect it, potentially threatening news media business models.

 

Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger so that users can text each other across those platforms, creating a “digital living room” whose chief attribute would be privacy.

In a lengthy blog post, Zuckerberg wrote:

As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.

He laid out this vision:

  • 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.
  • Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 New York Times analyzed these functions, noting that they were proposed following years of privacy invasion and scandal.

Foreign agents from countries like Russia have used Facebook to publish disinformation, in an attempt to sway elections. Some communities have used Facebook Groups to strengthen ideologies around issues such as anti-vaccination. And firms have harvested the material that people openly shared for all manner of purposes, including targeting advertising and creating voter profiles.

The Columbia Journalism Review speculated on a motive for Zuckerberg resurrecting privacy as a core value, questioning whether “hateful or violent content will soon appear in private rather than public messages,” meaning the company no longer would be liable in any privacy-invasion litigation. “The latter question has already come up in India, where much of the violence driven by WhatsApp has been fueled by messages posted in private groups.”

The magazine also noted that these new steps to secure privacy for users might impact journalism, affecting distribution of news and data-mining through social media, a continuous Facebook surveillance and selling feature. That threatens ad revenue, especially since media business models have been built around Facebook’s algorithms.

Living Media Ethics has long advocated that Facebook pay subsidies to the news industry because its users disseminate content without adequate payment or subscription.

The new edition (Routledge, 2019) also blames Facebook for disseminating fake news as avidly as fact-based journalism, threatening democracy because fewer people cipher real from fabricated reports. Here’s an excerpt:

Social media, especially Facebook, has become the primary disseminator of false news reports, prompting the company and FactCheck.org to partner in an attempt to flag fabricated “news.” The initiative was triggered by false news during the 2016 presidential campaign.[1] FactCheck.org recommends that reporters and viewers consider the source of information, read content carefully before jumping to conclusions, and verify the reputation of the author or group disseminating stories.

FactCheck cites these warning signs:

  • Did a reader or viewer send you a tip and social media link based on a bias that you both may share or that your media outlet has supported in the past?
  • Is the headline or title of a report sensationalized with content about what might occur hypothetically if a sequence of events takes place?
  •  Is the content of an alleged news report undated or based on events that might have happened in the past, falsely depicted as happening in the present?

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