Facebook’s privacy pivot vs. Microsoft’s 2002 security pivot: Facebook has more to prove

A compilation of Facebook’s worst data and privacy mishaps
The company is held to a high standard by regulators worldwide and is expected to maintain adequate privacy protections and to not abuse the power it holds. But, does it?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a privacy first vision for the social network that will make messaging more like the WhatsApp and Snapchat. Zuckerberg also said Facebook will make more interactions private, allow content to disappear and keep less metadata.

It all sounds like a worthwhile effort until you realize how little you believe it. 

Facebook to refocus messaging around encryption and privacy 

Simply put, Facebook will have to prove that it is serious about this privacy pivot. In his ode to privacy, Zuckerberg said: 

I believe 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. This is the future I hope we will help bring about. 

We plan to build this the way we’ve developed WhatsApp: focus on the most fundamental and private use case — messaging — make it as secure as possible, and then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services. 

Steven Sinofsky, partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Microsoft exec, said on Twitter Facebook’s privacy moment was akin to Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing moment. 

As a refresher, Microsoft’s security stunk. In 2002, Microsoft outlined a Trustworthy Computing initiative that would change the way the company worked. Then CEO Bill Gates outlined how the company must make security a priority and deliver products as reliable and secure as electricity, water services and telephony. 

Gates said in his memo

In the past, we’ve made our software and services more compelling for users by adding new features and functionality, and by making our platform richly extensible. We’ve done a terrific job at that, but all those great features won’t matter unless customers trust our software. So now, when we face a choice between adding features and resolving security issues, we need to choose security. Our products should emphasize security right out of the box. 

As the years went by it became clear that Microsoft was serious. It’s approach to patching, security and intelligence was emulated across the software industry. However, skeptics were plentiful for the first five years of the Trustworthy Computing effort.

On the surface, Sinofsky’s comparison makes sense. But Facebook will have to prove it is about your privacy just like Microsoft had to show its security chops. Microsoft also had more customer trust built up than Facebook. So far, Facebook’s actions haven’t exactly aligned with privacy. And so far, Facebook’s cash machine hasn’t been dinged. It’s also quite possible that this privacy push would hurt the ad revenue model and Facebook will retreat.

Zuckerberg outlined principles such as private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability and secure data storage as core tenents to Facebook’s business. Facebook also noted that messaging is going to be the core of Facebook’s network.

The privacy treatise makes sense on many fronts, but Zuckerberg acknowledges Facebook’s critics and their inevitable smirks. “Frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing,” he said. 

Facebook’s worst privacy scandals and data disasters  |  Key takeaways from damning UK report on Facebook’s world of “digital gangsters” | Congress wants Facebook to explain why closed groups leaked user data | Fixing Facebook: Why it needs a trust score

Zuckerberg has quite the understatement there. But hey, maybe this Facebook privacy pivot will be something we’ll reflect on in a decade. For the next few years, Zuck is going to have to prove he’s serious. Color me highly skeptical.

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Facebook’s privacy pivot vs. Microsoft’s 2002 security pivot: Facebook has more to prove
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