Facebook overhauls messaging as it ‘pivots to privacy’

Facebook has announced an overhaul of its core social network, taking the first concrete steps to refashion itself as a private messaging and e-commerce company and move on from a series of scandals while tapping into new revenue sources.

Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, unveiled a new design for the world’s biggest social network that de-emphasises its News Feed and showcases its messaging app, online marketplace, and video-on-demand site. The company also unveiled features aimed at encouraging users to interact with their close social circle as well as with businesses, such as a ‘Secret Crush’ option for Facebook Dating and a tool for appointment booking.

“We believe that there is a community for everyone. So we’ve been working on a major evolution to make communities as central as friends,” said Zuckerberg at Facebook’s annual F8 conference.

Zuckerberg identified private messaging, stories that expire within 24 hours, and small groups as the fastest-growing areas of online communication. In the last three years, the number of people using Facebook’s WhatsApp has almost doubled.

Facebook will also introduce Messenger for Mac and Windows and launch a feature called “Product Catalogue” for WhatsApp Business. Later this week, Facebook will run a test in Canada for a major change to its Instagram app that would remove the number of likes on photos as well as video views from users’ feeds, permalink pages and profiles.

Facebook had delayed rolling out certain products at last year’s F8 event, which came soon after revelations it inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with now-defunct UK political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

“I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly,” said Zuckerberg.

Other Facebook executives introduced changes within the Messenger and Instagram apps aimed at helping businesses connect with customers, including appointment booking and enhanced shopping features as well as a tool to lure customers into direct conversations with companies via ads.

The online ad market is largely dominated by Facebook and Google. But the field is more diverse for messaging, e-commerce and payments, with big players like Amazon Microsoft, and eBay, as well as fast-growing Silicon Valley unicorns like workplace messaging app Slack and video conferencing service Zoom Video Communications.

“We’ve shown time and again as a company that we have what it takes to evolve,” Zuckerberg said.