Facebook used its F8 developer conference to tell the world about plans to build a private social media service. Speakers, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, hammered home a conference slogan about the future being private.
Zuckerberg did nothing to redeem Facebook’s tarnished reputation.
Instead he undermined the message that he and his company wanted to send.
That joke isn’t funny any more
After promising users a more private feature he went on to joke about it with the audience.
“Now look, I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we’re serious about this, I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly. But I’m committed to doing this well.”
One of the things I often tell people about these speeches is that you have to, metaphorically, listen to the words and the music.
Written down the words look plausible. If you see a video of the speech you’ll see Zuckerberg laughing. At least it made him sound insincere. You might worry that this young billionaire is laughing at his company’s users. He has publicly disrespected them in the past.
Zuckerberg’s jokey delivery certainly fell flat with the audience. That video clip could be set to echo down the years if Facebook’s privacy plan goes sour.
It’s another example of a tone-deaf response from the leader of a company that has swung elections and been accused of stirring up hate crimes.
If Zuckerberg didn’t think Facebook had a problem when he made his speech. It has one now. He did nothing to address the biggest question hanging over Facebook: why should anyone trust the company?
There’s another question arising from the F8 conference keynote. Facebook is a huge business. It’s worth about half a trillion US dollars. It doesn’t make things. It’s not really a software company in the traditional sense.
Switching focus from inserting targeted advertising in a user’s social media feed to helping them communicate privately is a huge jump. There is a relation between the two, but it doesn’t map well.
Facebook already has a lot of messaging. There’s the Facebook Messenger. There’s also WhatsApp and the messaging feature in Instagram. Integrating the various messaging tools and building them into a new, useful service isn’t going to happen overnight.
Making messaging private means using encryption. Facebook says it will use this technology. Yet encryption is something governments don’t like. Given that a lot of governments also don’t like or trust Facebook that could see the company tied up in complex regulations.
My other fear about the news from F8 is there is too much focus on cosmetic changes to the business. Take the site makeover that was revealed. This may be intended to send a message that Facebook has changed, but it’s more a case of the leopard changing his spots.
Likewise Facebook’s Secret Crush feature. It could turn out to be creepy if poorly implemented. But you can’t help thinking it’s main purpose is to distract people.