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Facebook Promises More Enhanced Privacy And Other Features


Just as Facebook faces pressure to accept government regulation, Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to change. The giant company's founder and CEO made an announcement in a post on Facebook, of course. The company that's in trouble for harvesting your personal information and finding endless ways to profit from it and share it says he wants to keep less of your information. Zuckerberg says he now favors plans for encryption and self-destruct features on Facebook apps like Messenger. That's a private message service. What to make of this - Hadas Gold is a media and global business reporter for CNN. She's following this story from London.

Hi, Hadas.

HADAS GOLD: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How big a shift would this be for Facebook?

GOLD: This is a rather radical, new shift if you think about, as you said, Facebook was built upon sharing everything publicly, building a public community. And as Mark Zuckerberg said in this 3,200-word manifesto, he wants to move everything from the digital town square to the digital living room and make it more private because, he says, he recognizes that's what people want. That's what people are moving towards. They want to be able to have people have encrypted messaging so that Facebook can't read it, other people can't read it. And he also wants to unite all of the messaging services that Facebook has - that includes WhatsApp and Instagram - all into one.

We've heard reports about this, this sort of joining everything on the back end. What that means is Mark Zuckerberg wants you to be able, if you're on WhatsApp, to message your friend on Facebook through your WhatsApp service. Now, he says that you'll still be able to keep them separate if you want. This will all be uniting them all into one. This changes a lot of things for Facebook. It has business implications, legal implications. It has societal implications. It has PR implications. But this is clear. Facebook is completely changing the way it has approached its business model thus far.

INSKEEP: Although I'm trying to think about that. If they're mashing services together, I guess, in theory, that means it's easier for this giant corporation to keep track of all of your activities on the various platforms. But if some of my Facebook messages are encrypted, as Zuckerberg suggests in this post, is that going to mean the company is not going to be able to read people's communications and keep them forever?

GOLD: So that is the idea, actually, that Facebook won't have as much access to that data. And that has real implications for how Facebook does its business, how it sells its advertisements. And Zuckerberg admitted that in his post and in interviews we've seen he's done since, that this will radically change how they conduct their business. But there is room for new business tools that Facebook is very excited about, especially ones around payments and new forms of sort of digital commerce, digital payments, things in that sort of bitcoin arena. But the other question here about keeping all of that data private is a question legally. Will law enforcement have access to important information they might need to engage if they see something illegal going on? There's also the...

INSKEEP: Or, say, Russian interference in an election through Facebook.

GOLD: Exactly. There's also the societal implications where, right now, Facebook has this big push to try to track misinformation. And maybe fact-checkers, things like that - how will a fact-checker have access to see that something inappropriate or with misinformation has been posted if it's all private? And then there's also the question of in other countries - Mark Zuckerberg addresses this in this manifesto, that they want to be more careful about countries that want them to expose data of their users. And that - what that might mean is that Facebook will probably not have access and will not open in places like China. And Facebook seems to just admit that's just what's going to happen. That's the direction they're in.

INSKEEP: OK. We mentioned that this comes as Facebook faces pressure for regulation. I wonder if one other thing might be happening here. Do you think this might be a little bit of - let's call it Apple envy because Tim Cook of Apple keeps boasting, you know, our products, unlike Facebook's, are designed so that Apple can't ever get your data even if Apple wanted to.

GOLD: Facebook is definitely facing huge regulation pushes across the world. Here in the United Kingdom, we're expecting any day a white paper about how the government plans to regulate tech in Australia. Facebook has just responded to a preliminary report on how they want a new regulator to get in into the newsfeed and advertising business. Obviously, in the United States, members of Congress, including many presidential candidates, have said they want to adopt European ways of regulating. A former FCC technologist, Ashkan Soltani, called it a competition play to head off any potential regulatory effects to limit data sharing across services. Facebook says this is what people want. But clearly, there is a sort of reaction here to what they see as government regulation just staring down them.

INSKEEP: And also, the PR disasters one after the other - Hadas, thanks so much.

GOLD: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Hadas Gold of CNN, reporting today from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.