Facebook's privacy pivot vs Microsoft's 2002 security pivot: Facebook has more to prove

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a privacy first vision for the social network, but it's a hard sell. Facebook has to prove over time that it is serious about privacy. It can be done. Microsoft took security seriously in 2002, but had more customer trust built up.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a privacy-first vision for the social network that will make messaging more like the WhatsApp and Snapchat. Zuckerberg said Facebook will not only make more interactions private, but it will also allow content to disappear, and it'll keep less metadata.

It all sounds like a worthwhile effort until you realize how little you believe it. Simply put, Facebook will have to prove that it is serious about this privacy pivot.

Also: Facebook to refocus messaging around encryption and privacy  

In his ode to privacy, Zuckerberg said: 

I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won't stick around forever. This is the future I hope we will help bring about. 

We plan to build this the way we've developed WhatsApp: focus on the most fundamental and private use case -- messaging -- make it as secure as possible, and then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services. 

Steven Sinofsky, partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Microsoft exec, said on Twitter that Facebook's privacy moment was akin to Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing moment. 

As a refresher, Microsoft's security stunk. In 2002, Microsoft outlined a Trustworthy Computing initiative that would change the way the company worked. Then, CEO Bill Gates outlined how the company must make security a priority and deliver products as reliable and secure as electricity, water services, and telephony. 

Gates said in his memo

In the past, we've made our software and services more compelling for users by adding new features and functionality, and by making our platform richly extensible. We've done a terrific job at that, but all those great features won't matter unless customers trust our software. So now, when we face a choice between adding features and resolving security issues, we need to choose security. Our products should emphasize security right out of the box. 

As the years went by, it became clear that Microsoft was serious. It's approach to patching, security, and intelligence was emulated across the software industry. However, skeptics were plentiful for the first five years of the Trustworthy Computing effort.

On the surface, Sinofsky's comparison makes sense. But Facebook will have to prove it is about your privacy just like Microsoft had to show its security chops. Microsoft also had more customer trust built up than Facebook. So far, Facebook's actions haven't exactly aligned with privacy. And so far, Facebook's cash machine hasn't been dinged. It's also quite possible that this privacy push would hurt the ad revenue model and Facebook will retreat.

Zuckerberg outlined principles such as private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability and secure data storage as core tenants to Facebook's business. Facebook also noted that messaging is going to be the core of Facebook's network.

The privacy treatise makes sense on many fronts, but Zuckerberg acknowledged Facebook's critics and their inevitable smirks. "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," he said. 

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Zuckerberg has quite the understatement there. But, hey, maybe this Facebook privacy pivot will be something we'll reflect on in a decade. For the next few years, Zuck is going to have to prove he's serious. Color me highly skeptical.

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