Facebook aims to capitalize on our need for privacy

On Wednesday, March 6, Mark Zuckerberg made a post explaining his vision for privacy-focused social media. In it, he described Facebook as the digital equivalent of a town square, and then he outlined several principles around which he intended to build the equivalent of a living room. The two most relevant principles were end-to-end encryption and impermanent content. In other words, messages would be encrypted in such a way that Zuckerberg himself couldn’t read them, and they would also self-destruct after a set amount of time.

Zuckerberg mentions the growing number of people who want a privacy-focused communication platform. No wonder. In 2018 we had the Cambridge Analytica debacle, in which 87 million unwitting Facebook users were given to a social-engineering company running a psyops campaign. Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed the rise of a new culture centered around attacking people’s careers based on anything they’d shared within the past decade. Kevin Hart’s clash with cancel-culture being the most obvious example. Stricter privacy rules and impermanence may have prevented both.

While creating a “digital living room” may sound like a noble and necessary ambition, one must never confuse Zuckerberg for a humanist. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are in the business of capturing a user’s attention and then selling it. The reason why a user’s feed isn’t in chronological order is because it’s been rearranged to optimally hold a user’s attention. The longer a user engages with Facebook, the more opportunities Facebook has to serve them ads. So, it stands to reason that Zuckerberg’s true goal is to prevent users from leaving his platforms in search of more private channels.

Notably, Zuckerberg’s post discusses the challenges of interoperability:

In other words — wherever you are, Zuckerberg doesn’t want you to step outside. Not even for a moment.

One of the more troubling portions of Zuckerberg’s post regards the difficulty of balancing privacy and online safety. Consider how quickly a private, secure, and impermanent communication channel could be turned toward bad ends — maybe the exploitation of children or the recruitment efforts of fundamentalist extremists. Zuckerberg says, “We are working to improve our ability to identify and stop bad actors across our apps by detecting patterns of activity or through other means, even when we can’t see the content of the messages, and we will continue to invest in this work.”

The goal Zuckerberg stated is to stop bad things from happening. The subtext is the continuous, microscopic analysis of one’s online behavior. While the messages themselves might be encrypted, Facebook will still be observing all the activity surrounding those messages. Such analysis may often curtail bad behavior, but it’s reasonable to assume that the analysis will be used, more often, to sell more and better-pointed ads.

I admit that I’m biased against Facebook. A recent study found that reducing the amount of time one spends on social media has a significant and direct benefit on their feelings of loneliness and depression. When a person cuts down on social media, they feel happier. I doubt anybody is shocked to hear that.

With this in mind, the work that Zuckerberg and Co. do to encourage people to use their services are in direct conflict with human happiness — and it’s not as if they’re ignorant of this fact. Mark is a certifiable genius; he’s smarter than you and I are. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the negative side-effects of social media, it’s just that he doesn’t care. So, he and the other geniuses working beside him will continue investing their intellectual gifts toward keeping users on the hook.

This move toward privacy is just more bait.

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Facebook aims to capitalize on our need for privacy

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