Yesterday afternoon, Mark Zuckerberg presented an completely new philosophy. For 15 times, the stated goal of Facebook has been to build the nations of the world more open and connected; the unstated purpose was creating a targeted ad structure built on virtually infinite data. Yesterday, though, Zuckerberg pronounced that the company is reversing track. The social network of the future won’t be one where everyone connects openly together, as in a town square; it will be one where more linkages happen one to one, as in a living room. Instead of data continuity, data will disappear.
Facebook isn’t putting the present platform–worth roughly half a trillion dollars–in the garbage disposal. As Zuckerberg made clear in a Wednesday afternoon interview with WIRED, Facebook as we know it now will still exist. But it will change. And there will likewise merely be something new.
It’s unclear the extent to which Facebook will ultimately push customers toward privacy, and in what exact styles. But Zuckerberg controls Facebook, and his manifesto will make its gears start to turn in different directions. As that begins, there are nine important questions the company will have to think through.
1. Facebook knows how to make money in the town square. How does it make money in this new living room?
Private, encrypted messaging are very difficult to monetize. In our interview, Zuckerberg demurred when asked what the new business example will be after fastening down on the data firehose. The company would, he said, construct the product firstly and figure out financing of the later. Facebook does have nascent efforts in commerce and cryptocurrency, but there’s no question that figuring out revenue on the brand-new platform will be a hard question for Dave Wehner, Facebook’s chief financial officer. A former Facebook employee told me last-place nighttime, “Mark is like a cartoon character who go through a cluster of dangerous the status and ever comes out on top. Dave is the guy passing behind him catching the cat, stopping the ladder from tipping, deflecting the winging axe with a manhole cover.”
2. What does this do to safety on the platform?
Facebook rightly faces endless criticism for all the data it compiles. But there are benefits to data collection as well. It can help stop bullies, or even potential suicides. Once those communications grow private, Facebook no longer has the same abilities to track and moderate. The public–from the media, to nonprofits, to professors, to people, to the government–also uses the public nature of Facebook to track bad demeanor. If Russian intellect operatives had just used private encrypted messaging to manipulate Americans, would they have been caught? As Facebook knows from operating WhatsApp, either already end-to-end encrypted, policing abuses gets ever harder as messages get more hidden.