San Francisco, Mar 8 (AP/UNB) — After building a social network that turned into a surveillance system, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he's shifting his company's focus to messaging services designed to serve as fortresses of privacy.
Instead of just being the network that connects everyone, Facebook wants to encourage small groups of people to carry on encrypted conversations that neither Facebook nor any other outsider can read. It also plans to let messages automatically disappear, a feature pioneered by its rival Snapchat that could limit the risks posed by a trail of social media posts that follow people throughout their lives.
It's a major bet by Zuckerberg, who sees it as a way to push Facebook more firmly into a messaging market that's growing faster than its main social networking business. It might also help Facebook ward off government regulators, although the Facebook CEO made clear that he expects the company's messaging business to complement, not replace, its core businesses.
But there are plenty of obstacles. Facebook has weathered more than two years of turbulence for repeated privacy lapses, spreading disinformation, allowing Russian agents to conduct targeted propaganda campaigns and a rising tide of hate speech and abuse. Zuckerberg submitted to two days of grilling on Capitol Hill last April. All that increases the challenge of convincing users that Facebook really means it about privacy this time.
Encrypted conversations could alleviate some of those problems, but it could make others worse. Security is an "admirable goal," said Forrester Research analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo. "I'm just not sure it addresses the bigger issues Facebook is facing right now."
Facebook grew into a colossus by vacuuming up people's information in every possible way and dissecting it to shoot targeted ads back at them. Anything that jeopardizes that machine could pose a major threat to the company's share price, which would also affect its ability to attract and retain talented engineers and other employees.
In a Wednesday interview with The Associated Press, Zuckerberg predicted Facebook's emphasis on privacy will do more to help the company's business than hurt it. While most of the stock market slipped in Wednesday trading, Facebook's shares gained $1.25 to close at $172.51.
The Facebook CEO has been telegraphing some of these changes to investors for the past six months, but his Wednesday blog post is the first time he has explained the idea to the more than two billion people that use Facebook's services and look at its ads. Those ads are expected to generate $67 billion in revenue this year, according to the research firm eMarketer.
If everything falls into place, Facebook will also display similar advertising on the privacy-protected messaging services. Those services are also likely to offer other moneymaking features, such as a digital wallet, as Facebook attempts to build something similar to Tencent's popular WeChat service in Asia.
"If you think about your life, you probably spend more time communicating privately than publicly," Zuckerberg said during the AP interview. "The overall opportunity here is a lot larger than what we have built in terms of Facebook and Instagram."
That's far from proven. While Facebook has already tried to show ads in the Messenger app, it's seen only limited success. It hasn't even tested the concept in WhatsApp since it acquired that service for $22 billion in 2014.
"There are some huge unknowns about how successful Facebook is going to be rolling advertising into a more private messaging environment," said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
Some critics are convinced that Facebook has become so powerful — even a threat to democracy as well as to people's privacy — that it needs to be reined in by tougher regulations or even a corporate breakup.
But unraveling Facebook could become more difficult if Zuckerberg can successfully stitch together the messaging services behind an encrypted wall.
"I see that as the goal of this entire thing," said Blake Reid, a University of Colorado law professor who specializes in technology and policy. He said Facebook could tell antitrust authorities that WhatsApp, Instagram Direct and Facebook Messenger are tied so tightly together that it couldn't unwind them.
Combining the three services also lets Facebook build more complete data profiles on all of its users. Already, businesses can already target Facebook and Instagram users with the same ads, and marketing campaigns are likely coming to WhatsApp eventually.
Facebook's focus on messaging privacy raises other concerns. Messaging apps have in the past helped fake news and rumors spread fast, sometimes with deadly consequences. A report from University of Oxford researchers last year found evidence of widespread disinformation campaigns on chat applications like WhatsApp. In one particularly brutal example, the Indian government last year accused WhatsApp of fueling rumors that led to lynchings and mob violence that wounded dozens.
Facebook responded by restricting the number of groups to which a message could be forwarded and labeling forwarded messages as such. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg said that Facebook needs to protect both privacy and safety as it encrypted messaging services, although he noted to an "inherent trade-off" between security and safety, simply because Facebook won't be able to read encrypted conversations.
And in some cases, Facebook could allow some content to automatically disappear in a day or two, as if it were a fleeting mirage.
"Some people want to store their messages forever and some people think having large collections of photos or messages is a liability as much as it is an asset," Zuckerberg told the AP. "Figuring out the balance is a really important one."
San Francisco, Feb 23 (AP/UNB) — Twitter co-founder Evan Williams will leave the social media company's board of directors at the end of the month.
Twitter announced his departure in a securities filings Friday and Williams tweeted confirmation of the news.
Williams served as Twitter's CEO from 2008 to 2010 and now is chief executive of publishing site Medium.com. He tweeted that stepping down will let him focus on other projects and that he will still be rooting for the Twitter team.
He was the second-largest Twitter shareholder on the company's board behind CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Dorsey tweeted his appreciation for Williams, who served on the board for 12 years.
Dhaka, Feb 18 (UNB) – The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) on Monday ordered the International Internet Gateway (IIG) to block access to 55 more porn sites.
Emdadul Haque, general secretary of Internet Service Providers’ Association of Bangladesh, told UNB that they had carried out the BTRC’s directives.
Since February 6, the BTRC had ordered blocking access to more than 2,800 porn sites.
The High Court had directed the government to take initiative to block pornography websites in November 2016. BTRC had blocked about 500 sites at that time.
London, Feb 18 (AP/UNB) — British lawmakers issued a scathing report Monday that accused Facebook of intentionally violating privacy and anti-competition laws in the U.K., and called for greater oversight of social media companies.
The report on fake news and disinformation on social media sites followed an 18-month investigation by Parliament's influential media committee. The committee recommended that social media sites should have to follow a mandatory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator to better control harmful or illegal content.
The report called out Facebook in particular, saying that the site's structure seems to be designed to "conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions."
"It is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws," the report states. It also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing contempt for the U.K. Parliament by declining numerous invitations to appear before the committee.
"Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters' in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law," the report added.
Parliamentary committee reports are intended to influence government policy, but are not binding.
Facebook said it shared "the committee's concerns about false news and election integrity" and was open to "meaningful regulation."
"While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago," said Facebook's U.K. public policy manager, Karim Palant.
"We have tripled the size of the team working to detect and protect users from bad content to 30,000 people and invested heavily in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to help prevent this type of abuse."
Facebook and other internet companies have been facing increased scrutiny over how they handle user data and have come under fire for not doing enough to stop misuse of their platforms by groups trying to sway elections.
The report echoes and expands upon an interim report with similar findings issued by the committee in July . And in December , a trove of documents released by the committee offered evidence that the social network had used its enormous trove of user data as a competitive weapon, often in ways designed to keep its users in the dark.
Facebook faced its biggest privacy scandal last year when Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct British political data-mining firm that worked for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, accessed the private information of up to 87 million users.
New York, Feb 15 (AP/UNB) — A report says Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are negotiating a "multibillion dollar" fine for the social network's privacy lapses.
The Washington Post said Thursday that the fine would be the largest ever imposed on a tech company. Citing unnamed sources, it also said the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount.
Facebook has had several high-profile privacy lapses in the past couple of years. The FTC has been looking into the Cambridge Analytica scandal since last March. The data mining firm accessed the data of some 87 million Facebook users without their consent.
At issue is whether Facebook is in violation of a 2011 agreement with the FTC promising to protect user privacy. Facebook and the FTC declined to comment.