By James Rogers
Published March 07, 2019
The tech giant and its leadership have faced intense scrutiny to prove Facebook's commitment to privacy.
“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, in a blog post on Wednesday. “But we've repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.”
Facebook is still feeling the shockwaves from a scandal that saw the personal information of as many as 87 million users shared with political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.
Since the 2016 election, Facebook also has taken flak for the way Russian agents used its service to target U.S. voters with divisive messages and being a conduit for political misinformation. Zuckerberg faced two days of congressional interrogation over these and other subjects last April; he acknowledged and apologized for Facebook's privacy breakdowns in the past.
Since then, Facebook has suffered other privacy lapses that have amplified calls for regulations that would hold companies more accountable when they improperly expose their users' information.
As part of an effort to make amends, Zuckerberg has planned to stitch together its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram messaging services so users will be able to contact each other across all of the apps.
“We want to give people a choice so they can reach their friends across these networks from whichever app they prefer,” said Zuckerberg, in his post. “We plan to start by making it possible for you to send messages to your contacts using any of our services, and then to extend that interoperability to SMS too. Of course, this would be opt-in and you will be able to keep your accounts separate if you'd like.”
However, critics have said they're not convinced Zuckerberg is truly committed to meaningful change.
"This does nothing to address the ad targeting and information collection about individuals," Jen King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, told The Associated Press. "It's great for your relationship with other people. It doesn't do anything for your relationship with Facebook itself."
Zuckerberg’s move is also seen as a strategy to blunt potential antitrust action against the social network.
Shane Green, U.S. CEO of data privacy app digi.me, says that the Facebook chief is keen to stall any attempt to regulate the social network. "Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook will start to embrace privacy and encryption on their apps is another effort to buy time and hold regulators at the gate," he said, in a statement emailed to Fox News.
However, Green adds that Zuckerberg's plan does not address the real problem, which is Facebook's business model. "When revenues are based on owning and exploiting user data, it is disingenuous to suggest that these measures will make a difference and eliminate harm to users," he explained.
Attila Tomaschek, digital privacy expert at BestVPN.com, said that Facebook’s announcement is a step in the right direction.
“The timeline for Facebook’s move towards a privacy-first approach will likely be measured in years rather than weeks or months, but the move is encouraging nonetheless,” he explained, in a statement emailed to Fox News. “Zuckerberg’s announcement shows that he is willing to make whatever potential advertising and financial sacrifices need to be made in order to achieve his vision of a more private social networking platform.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers