Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Coverage of Facebook’s F8 Conference

Casey Newton:

This year, the company sought to break with that tradition. Nearly every speaker at today’s F8 keynote, starting with Mark Zuckerberg, repeated a version of the phrase “the future is private.” Since Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s pivot toward private messaging last month, I’ve argued that the move represents a fundamental transformation of the company. On Tuesday, Zuckerberg sought to convince the world — and skeptics inside his own company — that he’s serious.

Zuckerberg took the second piece of advice given by bad public speaking teachers and led with a joke.1

His whirlwind pivot to privacy still seems like horseshit to me. This is a company founded on the basis that users who trusted Zuckerberg were “dumb fucks”, and he has broadly proved that point during his entire tenure at a company that is fundamentally untrustworthy. But perhaps this is simply because I’m relying on the common definition of privacy, not Facebook’s.

Casey Johnston, the Outline:

[…] WhatsApp messages have always been end-to-end encrypted, and Zuckerberg noted they would stay that way. He emphasized several times that Facebook will not be able to see the content of this material, saying it was private “even from us” several times about several features, and emphasizing the words “safety” and “secure.”

But what his presentation elided was the fact that Facebook does not need to see the content of what people are saying in order to advertise to them. The metadata — who, or what (as in a business), you’re talking to, and even where you are or what time the conversation is taking place as it comes together with other pieces of information — provides more than enough information to make a very educated guess about what you’re interested in, to the point that knowing specifically what you are saying adds almost nothing.

I’ve argued before that the entire tech industry is often judged monolithically by the behaviour of its worst players. Apple has sought to differentiate itself on privacy, in part through a relatively recent ad campaign. There are lots of reasons for Facebook to pretend to care about privacy now, but I think Apple’s campaign may have spooked them a bit. And what better way to try to compete on the same plane by redefining a somewhat nebulous word like privacy?

  1. Tim Cook, of course, took the first piece of advice back in March and led with a dictionary definition. Smooth. ↩︎