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Facebook, yet again, considers the pivot to privacy

In a memo titled "The Big Shift,” Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth made the case that the company should be designing products for privacy above all else, per OneZero. Shared on Facebook's internal platform Workplace, Boz suggested that product development has to shift, as does the company's culture, in order to meet rising consumer demands for privacy. Boz proposed that product development "start with the assumption that we can’t collect, use, or store any data. The burden is on us to demonstrate why certain data is truly required for the product to work."

This isn't Facebook's first privacy pivot. Zuckerberg boldly declared that "The future is private," during his 2019 F8 keynote focusing on encrypted messaging and private communities. Boz leads Facebook's Reality Labs, and has plans to roll out smart glasses soon, which will undoubtedly be a privacy minefield. The company has gotten flack—and an antitrust probe—for requiring that users create a Facebook account in order to use its Oculus VR product.

But the shift to privacy might stick this time, if only because the legislative writing is on the wall. Boz's suggestion to minimize data collection echoes language in the GDPR and California's privacy laws. With federal data privacy legislation likely to be introduced in coming years, prioritizing privacy could become a federal mandate. But Facebook has a long way to go—our US Digital Trust Survey showed users rank Facebook last among social media platforms in terms of trust with privacy and data. And just 3.4% of users would trust Facebook with their personal data, another eMarketer and Bizrate Insights survey showed.

Big Tech is driven—perhaps by necessity—to explore what it would take to turn privacy into a competitive advantage. Amazon director of Alexa Trust Anne Toth described on a panel at CES 2021 how every Alexa product release is also paired with a privacy feature improvement. And in the wake of a bungled policy update on WhatsApp, consumers are voting with their feet by choosing competing messaging services for their privacy-protecting value propositions.