Facebook Privacy – it’s not a characteristic we are familiar with.

I am not one to baulk at the good that has come from social media, so it pains me to come back to discussing our ‘beloved’ social media giant Facebook yet again – but alas, until there is a fair balance it’s unavoidable.

In this latest chapter, Facebook is poised to provide ‘end-to-end’ encryption on all three of its messaging platforms (of course WhatsApp is already encrypted). It’s no surprise that this has ruffled the feathers of governments.

So why the fuss? Well, if service providers encrypt data and put the keys in the hands of the users’, then law enforcement cannot access it (even with a warrant). Good for Privacy, but even better for criminals. An open letter from the US, UK, and Australian Governments urging Facebook not to implement encryption has made headlines in all the major press, but is this the real story?

Facebook are not well regarded when it comes to the protection of users’ data and privacy. So, does the announcement to provide ‘end-to-end’ encryption mean it’s had a change in heart? Do Facebook now, all of a sudden, care about our privacy and protecting our data? It’s not a characteristic we are familiar with.

Let’s consider the facts. Nearly all of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising. It is extremely successful with this because it allows advertisers to target content based on rich profile information that it holds on its users’. This means less wasted ads and more clicks per buck. Does this mean then, that by giving its users’ privacy, Facebook will no longer be collecting data about its users’? I think not. If you think Facebook’s share price took a hit after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, then just imagine the impact if it said it couldn’t target ads anymore. Facebook’s entire revenue model is rooted in profiling its users – that’s you and me.

So, if it is true that Facebook will continue to collect data about its users’ and exploit that data for financial reward then how can it be looking after the privacy of its users?

Perhaps I am a sceptic, but it seems, that in reality, Facebook have just executed a PR master stroke. Offering end-to-end encryption for its messaging platforms will most certainly ensure users are protected from interception by bad actors (or legal interception to stop bad actors like paedophiles). Yet, Facebook will continue to collect data through other means and monetise it. It’s business as usual for Facebook, but it would appear that the announcement has gone perfectly to plan and heckled Governments into an open letter that takes all focus off Facebook and puts eyes back on governments as the big brother bad guys. In fact, would you believe it, Facebook are now being portrayed as the good guys.

I find it fascinating that a company that is almost wholly reliant on exploiting the data of its users for revenue can be seen as the good guys whilst Governments, who are tasked with protecting the national interest are painted as the bad guys or ‘big brother’. I accept that Governments have taken a ‘sledgehammer’ approach to solving the problem of legal interception but given the right technology they don’t have to be the bad guys in this dichotomy. We need to get on and deliver privacy for the masses and the pressure needs to be back on those who have absolutely no incentive to consider our best interest over that of their own stakeholders.