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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Zuckerberg’s note on privacy on social networks

Mark Zuckerberg published a note on Facebook last night outlining his thoughts around privacy and social networking.

I find it a fascinating read for several reasons. It reads like an internal memo – or even a draft of an internal memo – in that he repeats himself (sometimes verbatim) several times within the note. The realizations he’s come to are surely far overdue. He, and Facebook, were usually ahead of the market on so many things – and on privacy they are far, far behind (on many of their platforms apart from WhatsApp). And given the mutilated reputation of Facebook it seems these adjustments are being forced upon them.

I also find it interesting that both Twitter and Facebook are swimming upstream trying to figure out what in the world to do. They are global communication networks, founded in the US, that are being used and abused in ways – and at scales – that simply have never been seen before. This is new territory and whatever our opinions of the company’s motivations, the job they have ahead of them is monumental and fraught with pitfalls. (see also, this interview with Jack Dorsey, Vijay Gadde, and Tim Pool)

I wanted to pull a few quotes out of Zuckerberg’s note to comment on them.

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. But we’ve repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.

I could spend a lot of time parsing every single word he writes. An example would be “open sharing”. Facebook is hardly open in the sense we use the term when we refer to the “open web“. What he means is “public”, I suppose. But I won’t spend the time parsing each word – you’ll have to take the context of the terms for what they are and balance them against what you know about Facebook.

That being said, it is compelling to think of Facebook making this large of a shift from public first to private and encrypted and ephemeral first.

People expect their private communications to be secure and to only be seen by the people they’ve sent them to — not hackers, criminals, over-reaching governments, or even the people operating the services they’re using.

My guess is that most people wouldn’t even think that Facebook can or would read their private messages to one another. But, as of today, they can (except on WhatsApp supposedly).

If you watch the aforelinked video you will see a portion where Joe Rogan asks Twitter’s Vijay Gadde if Twitter can read people’s private messages to one another. She responds “I don’t think so?”. Her role isn’t technical, so I do not blame her for not having a direct response (though, she probably should have prepared talking points for this). But I do blame Jack Dorsey for remaining mute. Which, to me is an admission by omission. Twitter can, and does, read private DMs.

Governments often make unlawful demands for data, and while we push back and fight these requests in court, there’s always a risk we’ll lose a case — and if the information isn’t encrypted we’d either have to turn over the data or risk our employees being arrested if we failed to comply. This may seem extreme, but we’ve had a case where one of our employees was actually jailed for not providing access to someone’s private information even though we couldn’t access it since it was encrypted.

This, too, is fascinating. Facebook hasn’t built in privacy from day one into their platform for the sake of the user’s that use it, but now they are considering it because they are starting to see that data as a liability. They need encryption as much or more so than their user base and that is the impetus of this change. Facebook’s interests are their own.

For example, messages could be deleted after a month or a year by default. This would reduce the risk of your messages resurfacing and embarrassing you later. Of course you’d have the ability to change the timeframe or turn off auto-deletion for your threads if you wanted. And we could also provide an option for you to set individual messages to expire after a few seconds or minutes if you wanted.

This paragraph is the one that reads, to me, like a “hey y’all, this would be a great idea right?” internal message to his product team. We could do this! Or this? Or maybe we could even do this?

Either way, it’d be a welcome change to Facebook no doubt.

Then Zuckerberg explains “interoperability” within Facebook’s messaging platforms. He describes being able to send a message to someone – and regardless of their platform of choice – they’d be able to receive and send messages back.

To me, this reads like he’s explaining email.

You can imagine many simple experiences like this — a person discovers a business on Instagram and easily transitions to their preferred messaging app for secure payments and customer support; another person wants to catch up with a friend and can send them a message that goes to their preferred app without having to think about where that person prefers to be reached; or you simply post a story from your day across both Facebook and Instagram and can get all the replies from your friends in one place.

This is email. Yes, there would be other features like video chat, audio calls, payments, etc. etc. But – by and large this is what email does. You can email someone and it doesn’t matter what service or app they are using – they can receive and send a message back and iit can be done securely if they chose to.

The entire note is fascinating to me and worth a read regardless of how you feel about Facebook. Make no mistake, what they end up implementing (or, not) from this new found desire for privacy will echo throughout the other services of the web. For better or worse Zuckerberg just moved the goal posts.

Systrom and Krieger resign from Instagram

Kevin Systrom, former CEO and co-founder of Instagram:

We’ve grown from 13 people to over a thousand with offices around the world, all while building products used and loved by a community of over one billion.

What a run! Talk about leaving while on top. A Seinfeld-esque move.

Twitter fixes their timeline

YES!!!!!! The Verge:

Twitter has made a surprise change to how it shows tweets to its users, following a viral thread earlier today that discussed ways to reverse the platform’s algorithmic timeline. Now, when you uncheck the settings box reading “Show the best tweets first,” Twitter will completely revert your timeline to a non-algorithmic, reverse-chronological order, which is how Twitter was originally designed and operated for years until the company introduced a default algorithmic model in early 2016.

I saw this tweet last night and immediately turned this on. Now with this new setting I don’t need it. Please keep this Twitter. Please!

Manton Reece on smaller social networks

Manton Reece:

Many people are looking for “the next Twitter”, but it’s not enough to replace Twitter with a new platform and new leadership. Some problems are inevitable when power is concentrated in only 2-3 huge social networks — ad-based businesses at odds with user needs and an overwhelming curation challenge. This might be Mastodon’s greatest contribution: getting people used to the idea of many smaller, interoperable communities.

I agree with this far more today than I have in the past. I too was looking for the next Twitter. But now I’m glad there won’t likely be a replacement but that we will divide our time and interests across many communities. It will likely keep them all more civil and better.

Back on a different Mastodon instance

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I was on Mastodon and then didn’t log back in for a long time. My instance (mastodon.cloud) was sold? or was given? to a new Admin so my account was suspended and I couldn’t reset my password. I reached out to the current Admin via email and he/she said that they cannot restore my old account but could delete it and create a new one with the same name.

I decided to ask them to simply delete that account and I would create a new account on the OG instance at mastodon.social/@cdevroe

I have no specific plans to use this account other than to keep up with what is going on in the Mastodon world. But if you feel like connecting there please do.

Hubs by Mozilla

Mozilla:

We are excited about the future of Hubs and the potential for social VR experiences, but we need your help to test this and make it better. Check out the link below to try it out. Play with it. Share it. Break it. Contribute to it.

Well, break it we did. The team at Jujama put this thing through its paces and we broke it. But, I will say that the experience is nothing short of amazing considering that there is nothing to download or install and it works on every device we own.

The future of AR/VR on the web is very bright. In part because Mozilla is investing heavily in it.

What I would write about Vero

Colin Walker wrote his hot take on Vero and it is exactly what I would have written (only his post is far more eloquent than mine would have been). Go read the entire post but here are a few highlights.

As soon as I saw what Vero was all about – the idea it “makes sharing online more like real life” using selective audiences I was immediately taken back to the promises of Google+ and its circles.

This is an apt comparison. As he rightly points out, managing ones Circles on Google+ and deciding who to share what with is exhausting to the user. On paper it seems like an excellent approach. But on every social network that has this feature – Facebook included – it is rarely used. Who wants to move people from one list to another only to move them back again when your relationship with them shifts?

Although Vero promises an algorithm free feed and no ads (it will monetise using subscriptions and charges for selling via the platform) I’m not sure that jumping from the frying pan of one silo straight into the as yet unproven fire of another is what we really need right now.

I thought about this when I signed up. However, it doesn’t take much for a platform like Vero to support the open web and be less of a silo than Facebook or Twitter. An open API, data portability, and support for one’s own domain are the main features. I can’t presume that no other platforms will support the open web eventually. In fact, imagine if Twitter did this like Medium has? Then what would people think of Twitter?

I wish them well and hope they prove me wrong but, while I think the noise about Russian developers and the CEO being the son of a former Lebanese prime minister is stupid and tantamount to inciting racial hatred, I’m afraid I won’t be signing up.

I’m very glad he brought this up. When I saw the drivel on Twitter about these details about this platform I was saddened. Are we saying all Russian developers are bad? Or all Lebanese billionaires? I would always urge caution when signing up to brand-new platforms but to think we’d all call these people out simply based on where they were born is… well Colin already said what it is.

Eliza and I poked around with Vero as much as we could while the app crashed and timed out. It won’t stick. Not because of the scaling issues – most platforms have those. It won’t stick because it will be far too noisy for users right out of the gate.

When Instagram pivoted from a check-in app to a filtered photo app it exploded because it made photo editing and publishing one simple step. It did one thing well. Slowly it has added other features but this primary feature is still the foremost one today. Vero has photos, music, links, books etc. Once the hype settles down people just want to post photos. Instagram should be scared of whatever comes next. Obviously people (including me) do not like the current algorithmic feed. But Vero is no Instagram killer.