Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg says the future of social networking isn’t in “open platforms” but in private and secure intimate communications. The CEO said that increasingly people want to be able to connect in the “digital equivalent” of their living room.
“Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication. There are a number of reasons for this,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post published on Facebook.
“Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends. People are more cautious of having a permanent record of what they've shared. And we all expect to be able to do things like payments privately and securely.”
Zuckerberg said he expects Messenger and WhatsApp to “become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network.”
The Facebook CEO said that the company would focus on making those apps “faster, simpler, more private and more secure, including with end-to-end encryption”.
“We then plan to add more ways to interact privately with your friends, groups, and businesses,” the CEO wrote. “If this evolution is successful, interacting with your friends and family across the Facebook network will become a fundamentally more private experience.”
Facebook has been the target of sustained criticism of its privacy practices, as well as the subject of investigations by privacy regulations in multiple jurisdictions, particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
“I understand that many people don't think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform -- because 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,” Zuckerberg wrote.
“But we've repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.
“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.”
Facebook will start by introducing interoperability for the messaging features of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp and, on an opt-in basis, extend that to SMS messages.
In January the New York Times reported that Facebook planned to integrate its three messaging services. Although they would continue to operate as separate apps, their technical infrastructure would be unified, the paper reported.
Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook would not build data centres in jurisdictions with a poor track record on privacy or freedom of expression even if it means the services will get blocked in some countries.
Ephemeral messaging service Snapchat had 186 million daily users in the final quarter of 2018, according to its operator, Snap Inc.
Facebook reported average daily active users of 1.52 billion for December 2018, and monthly active users of 2.32 billion. That figure includes both users of the main Facebook site as well as registered Facebook users who used Messenger, but not Instagram or WhatsApp users.