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Posted on March 12, 2019

The Saga of Facebook’s Lackluster Approach to Data Privacy Continues

Since privacy is the biggest buzzword in both social media marketing and cybersecurity news, you would think that Facebook would start to get on board with securing communications between all of its platforms. Instead, it’s combining them into an all-encompassing communications platform using Facebook’s Messenger app. On the plus side? Seamless social messaging ease between friends. And promises of encryption (more on that, below).

Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook all fall under the latter company’s umbrella, and each one of these social media platforms carries millions of unique users. Considering the marketing potential available from this vast conglomeration of personal data, Facebook’s motives behind integrating them are obviously suspect.

Photos, likes, comments and other personal tidbits are enticing, valuable targets for data collectors. By integrating all messaging services through Facebook’s main eponymous app,the other social networks will at that point be able to see one another’s information as it’s processed through the same servers, where it’s sure to be collected, packaged, and sold as a staggering pool of personal data.

Yet, Facebook says they’ll begin encrypting messages so only the sender and receiver see them. WhatsApp already has these security features integrated, but Messenger does not. By including everything under the same messaging network, Facebook is likely hoping users will think their personal conversations are more secure, not less. As with most things security related, the average person won’t know whether their data is safe or not, especially considering Facebook’s terrible, purposefully ambiguous and opportunistic track record.

“There is no real way for consumers to ensure their data is being encrypted when using this new app. Security researchers could, but the average consumer can’t,” says Christine Bannan, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Ars Technica reports “Zuckerberg did note that this new approach to messages presents new business opportunities related to payments and other ‘private services,’ and though he doesn’t specify this, it’s clear that giving the advertisers the ability to reach users across all three messaging platforms could prove lucrative.”

This “lucrative” element has proven far too enticing for many social media platforms, Facebook included. Data collection agencies and advertisers in general pay good money for targeted advertising, and the sheer quantity of freely-gotten marketing data on Instagram and Facebook is almost too good to be true. The integration of our most frequently-used direct messages into one platform reduces the general cost-of-doing-business for Facebook, as well as making it easier to aggregate all that good, juicy data. Increasing profit is always a motive for a publicly-traded company, and this is obviously a strong, cynical play toward padding the bottom line.

The implications that arise from this platform integration are sobering, and consumers should be inherently skeptical of each component, phase, and assurance. While it remains to be seen if the promise of encryption will hold moving forward, that might serve as a good accountability measure for Facebook. If it turns out that our private messages won’t be truly private after all, it could signal the end of Facebook’s messaging dominance, allowing more secure, private apps to take their place. Once again, we users of these apps are left to wait and see if Facebook delivers on their promises, or if they disappoint us in that way that’s not unique to, but horribly mastered by, Zuckerberg and company.