Facebook has turned over a new leaf on privacy.
At least that’s what the social media giant’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg categorically proclaimed to the world last week.
Facebook has been at the centre of a series of significant and high profile privacy incidents, most prominently the Cambridge Analytica controversy, where the data of more than 80 million Facebook users was obtained and used without consent by the political consulting organisation.
There was also a security breach late last year impacting 30 million users around the world after a “network incident” involving hackers exploiting three intersecting bugs in the Facebook system. More than 100,000 Australians had their names, contact information and locations exposed as a result of the attack.
It was also revealed earlier this year that hundreds of millions of Facebook user passwords had been stored in plain-text on the company’s internal systems, meaning they were readable to employees.
The details of 540 million users were also discovered on publicly accessible Amazon cloud servers hosted by two third-party Facebook applications, with information including comments, passwords, photos, names and likes.
It’s a checkered history, but at the social media company’s annual two-day event on the future of technology, Zuckerberg signalled a renewed emphasis on privacy.
“I get that a lot of people aren’t sure we’re serious about this,” Zuckerberg said at the conference keynote.
“We don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly. But I’m committed to doing this well and starting a new chapter for our product. This isn’t just about building new products.
“It’s a major shift in how we run this company. We believe that for the future, people want a privacy-focused social platform. I believe that if we build out a fully encrypted interoperable service...that’s going to be an important contribution to the world.”
Zuckerberg unveiled FB5, the fifth major version of the Facebook product. The new-look Facebook will put groups front and centre, with a move away from the public NewsFeed and towards more private groups.
“The future is private. Over time, I believe that a private social platform will be even more important to our lives than our digital town squares,” he said.
“So today, we’re going to start talking about what this would look like as a product, what it means to have your social experience be more intimate, and how we need to change the way we run this company in order to build this.”
It’s a major shift from the social media titan, which has previously placed an emphasis on the public NewsFeed, sharing videos and content publicly and discovering new things through these methods.
“This is about building the kind of future we want to live in,” Zuckerberg said.
“To build a world where we can be ourselves and live freely and know that our private moments are only going to be seen by the people we want, where we can come together around community and commerce, where we build in the tools that we need to keep us safe from the beginning and prevent harm, and we then are able to focus on all the good people are able to do. Both in private and in public, both the living room and the town squares.”
Facebook also revealed a series of changes to the Messenger service, including a new desktop app, tools to make it easier to discover and watch videos in real time and for businesses to connect with potential customers.
It also unveiled a “secret crush” tool, allowing Facebook users to select up to nine of their friends on Facebook who they want to “express interest in”. If this person is also using the service and also selects the other user as a crush, they will be matched.