Facebook’s privacy move: major pivot or headfake?

Facebook has hired some 20,000 moderators around the world, but still faces a daunting task in removing content from billions of users in dozens of languages. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 March 2019
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Facebook’s privacy move: major pivot or headfake?

  • Zuckerberg’s announcement also prompted considerable head-scratching on the implications for Facebook’s ad-supported business model
  • Zuckerberg told Wired magazine in an interview Wednesday the details of the business model are not yet worked out

WASHINGTON: After building the world’s biggest and most powerful social network in history, Mark Zuckerberg says the future of Facebook is something else.
The strategic shift announced this week by Zuckerberg suggests Facebook no longer wants to be a “digital town square,” but a “digital living room” for secure, private communications, in what could be a major transformation on privacy.
But Zuckerberg’s announcement also prompted considerable head-scratching on the implications for Facebook’s ad-supported business model, and on the growing pressure to weed out nefarious content and misinformation.
“Should this ambition be realized, it is nothing less than an epochal shift in Facebook’s business model,” Henry Farrell, a George Washington University professor, wrote in the Washington Post.
Farrell noted that Facebook’s pivot comes amid pressure from governments to weed out “hate speech” and other inappropriate content, and in some cases use the social network to spy on its population.
By making more communications private and encrypted, “it makes some kinds of political manipulation harder to carry off at a wide scale,” Farrell wrote. “However, it also means, obviously, that government authorities will not be able to see what people are saying to one another.”
Farrell argued that Zuckerberg “isn’t just changing course because he was pushed. He is also being pulled by new opportunities, which might provide a more politically sustainable business model.”
Somewhat overlooked in Zuckerberg’s announcement was his plan to offer new services on a privacy-focused platform. He proposed to “build more ways for people to interact” with “video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services.”
Fred Wilson, a venture investor who blogs on the tech sector, called Zuckerberg’s announcement a bold effort to “completely reboot the company’s business model to position itself to win the next wave in tech.”
Zuckerberg told Wired magazine in an interview Wednesday the details of the business model are not yet worked out, while acknowledging that Facebook will collect and store less user data.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll build systems that can basically deliver most of the value with a fraction of the amount of data,” Zuckerberg said.
Laura Martin, analyst with the financial firm Needham & Co., said Zuckerberg’s move is smart because it brings Facebook new revenue streams while limiting its exposure to regulation.
Zuckerberg “sees the writing on the wall that Facebook will be regulated” and as a result is “carving out these apps to take them out of the regulatory purview,” Martin told AFP.
Moving into e-commerce and payments, Martin said, “represents revenue diversification, and Wall Street vastly prefers multiple revenue streams.”
Some analysts argue that Facebook’s move is a headfake designed to deflect attention away from its growing influence over public discourse.
“Underneath it all, very little is going to change,” said Richard Windsor, a technology analyst who writes the Radio Free Mobile blog, describing the shift as a “smokescreen.”
“This is because a pivot toward becoming a fully private and encrypted communication system looks like suicide as with no data Facebook would have no advertising to sell.”
Alex Stamos, a former Facebook chief security officer who is now on the Stanford University faculty, meanwhile called Zuckerberg’s announcement a “judo move” which addresses several challenges for the social network.
“Right now FB gets crap (from the same people) for both invading people’s privacy and not policing communications enough,” Stamos tweeted.
“In a world where everything is encrypted and doesn’t last long, entire classes of scandal are invisible to the media.”
Facebook’s move comes with US lawmakers mulling new regulations for Internet platforms which could end the liability protections for content posted by third parties, and with tough data protection regulations in Europe which in some cases require removal of inappropriate content within hours.
To comply with these requirements, Facebook has hired some 20,000 moderators around the world, but still faces a daunting task in removing content from billions of users in dozens of languages.
The new focus “could privilege privacy but undercut things like content moderation,” said Daniel Kreiss, a University of North Carolina professor of communication.
“A move in this direction would let them entirely wash their hands of any editorial or role for content... fake news, hate speech, defamation.”
Tech analyst and blogger Ben Thompson said the shift “makes perfect sense for Facebook: this is a privacy cake that Facebook can have — and eat it too.”
Thompson said Facebook is likely to keep its data collection and advertising business in place while moving into the new private communications space as it moves against rivals like Snapchat.
“This is a valuable space to own for all of the reasons that Snapchat succeeded in the first place,” he said in his Stratechery blog.
“Facebook has changed nothing about its core service or data collection policies, yet the assumption is that the company is pivoting and the only debate is whether to believe them or not.”


Trump complained to Twitter CEO about lost followers -source

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 April 2019
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Trump complained to Twitter CEO about lost followers -source

  • Reuters reported in 2016 Trump had been angry with Twitter because it had rejected an advertising deal with his campaign

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump met with Twitter Inc’s Chief Executive Jack Dorsey on Tuesday and spent a significant time questioning him about why he has lost some Twitter followers, a person briefed on the matter said.
The meeting, which was organized by the White House last week, came hours after Trump again attacked the social media company over his claims it is biased against conservatives.
“Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter. Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue!” Trump tweeted, posting a photo of Dorsey and others with him in the Oval Office.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump suggested Twitter was biased against him without providing evidence. He wrote on Twitter that the company does not “treat me well as a Republican. Very discriminatory.”
Twitter said in a statement Dorsey had a “constructive meeting with the president of the United States today at the president’s invitation. They discussed Twitter’s commitment to protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 US elections and efforts underway to respond to the opioid crisis.”
Unlike other major US tech company executives, Dorsey had not previously met with Trump.
He was not invited to a December 2016 meeting with president-elect Trump that featured other major tech companies. Reuters reported in 2016 Trump had been angry with Twitter because it had rejected an advertising deal with his campaign.
Trump has been upset about losing followers.
In October, Trump wrote that “Twitter has removed many people from my account and, more importantly, they have seemingly done something that makes it much harder to join — they have stifled growth to a point where it is obvious to all. A few weeks ago it was a Rocket Ship, now it is a Blimp! Total Bias?“
Any reduction is likely the result of Twitter’s recent moves to remove millions of suspicious accounts after it and other social media services were used in misinformation campaigns attempting to influence voters in the 2016 US presidential race and other elections, Reuters reported in October.
Shares in Twitter jumped 13 percent on Tuesday after it reported quarterly revenue above analyst estimates, which executives said was the result of weeding out spam and abusive posts and targeting ads better.
Trump lost 204,000, or 0.4 percent, of his 53.4 million followers in July when Twitter started its purge of suspicious accounts, according to social media data firm Keyhole.
Trump has one of the most-followed accounts on Twitter. But the president and Republicans in Congress have repeatedly criticized the company and its social media competitors for what they have called bias against conservatives, something Twitter denies.
Democratic US Senator Mazie Hirono said earlier this month “we cannot allow the Republican party to harass tech companies into weakening content moderation policies that already fail to remove hateful, dangerous and misleading content.”
Carlos Monje, Twitter’s public policy director, said at a Senate hearing earlier this month the site “does not use political viewpoints, perspectives or party affiliation to make any decisions, whether related to automatically ranking content on our service or how we develop or enforce our rules.”