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With the launch of ‘Libra’, Facebook’s play to become a world bank with its cryptocurrency product (pretty much a wallet), a new Facebook is emerging from the wreckage that the last few years have left behind. What comes next is a move for the company to become a much more transparent.
Facebook now has more than 2.5 billion users; that’s more people than there are Christians in the world. While the platform is no doubt influential, Facebook is not as integral to daily life as other platforms in different parts of the world, such as China’s WeChat. Becoming ‘integral’ is a core part of the mission for Zuckerburg and co – what’s even more fundamental than money? Health. And you guessed it – Facebook are working on that too. Privacy and control are now the core concerns for users and politicians as scandal after scandal erodes faith in the company. Facebook’s answer is to indeed offer more privacy, but at what cost? Zuckerberg at the most recent F8 Developer Conference believes; “The future is private. This is the next chapter for our services. I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we’re serious about this. I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly. But I’m committed to doing this well and to starting a new chapter for our product. And this vision is based on six principles; Private Interactions, Encryption, Reduced Permanence, Safety, Interoperability and Secure Data Storage”. As soon as Zuckerberg said this, he announced he would be combining all the messaging services into one. Add this to the cryptocurrency moves, and you have a clear strategy to echo the Asian apps that are seeing billions of users pump billions if not trillions of dollars through them to pay for everything from food to rent. The move of folding all messaging platforms into one has another outcome; encryption means it’s likely impossible to track where misinformation and bad actor activity originates. A win for the PR team but an epic fail for police services unless there’s a backdoor akin to the one Edward Snowden famously whistle-blew. Apple recently announced an altogether less scary and more understandable foray into finance – a credit card. Facebook will need to push Libra hard to find any traction as Bitcoin and cryptocurrency have yet to take hold of the public consciousness. Despite the Bitcoin ATMs and payment options across the web, Blockchain remains a technology steeped in controversy and grey areas. With pushes into VR, AR, voice assistants and even dating, it’s never been clearer that Facebook isn’t content with being the most powerful social network – the grander plans are more encapsulating. Execs continue to bail from the new Facebook as the next chapter unfolds. It’s time to try new challenges and, in some cases, atone for the sins that happened under their watch. The future of Facebook is anything but written. The latest money play is to make Facebook more integral to your daily life, possibly a new world bank. If that works for you then great, but for many, it will be a long time before they trust Facebook with more than their status updates, no matter how far Facebook say they will be from the helm. Zuckerberg isn’t going anywhere unless he chooses to, the way the shares are divided up makes that a fact and he hasn’t shown any interest in changing this reality. Nothing happens at Facebook unless Zuckerberg approves it. Perhaps this is part of the problem but ultimately the Facebook we (and Facebook) see today is not the Facebook of the future. Facebook will continue the corporate minefield the company has created for itself. Public opinion and external scrutiny are unlikely to damage the platform because of its power and breadth. The threats for Facebook are, essentially, themselves. Either a significant PR blunder or a whistleblower could be disastrous. Few external impacts can damage or compel Facebook to do anything the company doesn’t want to do. Facebook is just that powerful. Those that do have the power, like the EU, are pushing hard to protect consumers, but the battle will be long and arduous. Facebook workers need to shout louder when they see abuses or aren’t happy with the direction – ‘silence is complicity’ has never seemed more apt.
Paul Armstrong runs HERE/FORTH, an emerging technology advisory, is the author of ‘Disruptive Technologies’ and regularly writes about technology and society for Forbes, Reuters and Cool Hunting. He is also the creator of TBD the conference which attendees described as ‘TED… without the bullsh!t’. www.thetbdconference.com