Mark Zuckerberg announced on Wednesday that Facebook would be ‘pivoting to privacy’. That’s an empty pledge
If you have visited China in recent years you might have discovered how difficult it is to make your way through without WeChat, an all-purpose mobile phone application. People in China use WeChat for everything from sending messages to family to reading news and opinion to ordering food to paying at vending machines to paying for a taxi. WeChat lets you deposit money in your bank, search for a library book, make a medical appointment, conduct business conference calls, and interact with the government. In China, WeChat is the operating system of your life, as it is for almost 1.1 billion people.
For Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, WeChat is both his greatest challenge and the model for the future of his company. Zuckerberg has long wanted Facebook to be the operating system of our lives – at least for those who live outside of China. WeChat is what Facebook has yet to become. WeChat, should it move beyond China and its diaspora, is also the greatest threat to Facebook’s global domination.
This, better than any empty and distracting pledge of “pivoting to privacy”, explains Zuckerberg’s announcement on Wednesday. He pledged to federate the messaging services of his three non-Facebook platforms, Instagram (1 billion users), WhatsApp (1.5 billion users), and Messenger (1.3 billion users). He would extend the strong encryption that distinguishes WhatsApp from many other messaging services (although not, significantly, from growing and encrypted potential competitors like Telegram and Signal) to the other two platforms and allow content to move easily among them.