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Mark Zuckerberg Promises to Improve Facebook Privacy. Sound Familiar?

March 6, 2019, 10:35 PM UTC

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a new plan to improve privacy for users of Facebook and his company’s other apps. The social network, which once wanted to make the world more open and connected, now wants to shift focus to encrypted private communications across its messaging services and better protecting user data.

But Zuckerberg’s promises sound a lot like his previous ones to clean things up at Facebook. And he even he acknowledged that, after falling short so often, people may be fed up with his assurances.

“I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform — because 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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a lengthy blog post on Wednesday.

This comes amid huge blowback against Facebook for its numerous privacy blunders over the past several years. For example, in January, Facebook was slammed for its research app that paid users, including teens, to try it out in exchange for their personal data. As a result, Apple banned the app from its platform.

Just a few months prior, Facebook was in the hot seat again for giving other technology companies, like Apple and Amazon, access to user data without specifically spelling out that it would. And earlier, Facebook came under fire after Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook’s user data to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Following that firestorm, Zuckerberg said, “I know it takes longer to fix all these issues than we’d like, but I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.”

In his post on Wednesday, Zuckerberg said that Facebook has a lot more work to do, and that it’s “committed” to doing better. Sound familiar?

Lawmakers are well aware of Facebook’s privacy troubles and cite them as examples of why new federal or state regulations are needed. Federal legislators are considering new privacy laws while their counterparts in several states are doing the same or, like in California, have passed bills.

Some of what Zuckerberg is promising is for users to be able to securely communicate across messaging apps WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and even text messages. All messages that users send would be encrypted and therefore indecipherable to hackers, Facebook employees, and law enforcement.

Zuckerberg also wants to give Facebook and Instagram users more control over how long a message, posts, and photo exists. For example, users could decide to make messages they send to others instantly disappear after being viewed or disappear after a set amount of time—which sounds very similar to rival Snapchat.

When it comes to storing user data, Zuckerberg says Facebook would not build data centers in countries with a track record of violating human rights like monitoring their residents online. In response, those countries may block Facebook, but it’s “a tradeoff we’re willing to make,” Zuckerberg wrote.

He added that Facebook is in the “early stages” of its latest privacy push, and that it’s “critical” for the company to get it right. “I believe we should be working towards a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won’t all stick around forever,” he said.

In the meantime, Zuckerberg hopes that users won’t defect—they haven’t following past problems—and that lawmakers won’t crack down. At minimum, he now has yet another to-do list that he can point to in promising that the future will be better.