Vox Sentences: Facebook tries to pivot to privacy

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Facebook turns to privacy; the UN focuses on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.


Facebook’s scramble to emphasize privacy


Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a blog post on Wednesday that in the future, the social media giant will develop a “privacy-focused platform” that’s all about private messages — not open profiles, the key feature that made the company’s products so powerful in the first place. [Recode / Kurt Wagner]
  • Zuckerberg’s decision that privacy is the future comes after a rough year for Facebook on the question of what exactly it did with its users’ data. It’s a significant announcement, but it’s also worth noting that Facebook has been slow to implement smaller privacy-focused changes in the past. [The Verge / Jacob Kastrenakes]
  • As part of the shift, Facebook will integrate WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram Messages. But the company’s business model will still depend on users sharing things publicly so that advertisers can target them. [NYT / Mike Isaac]
  • Shifting away from the News Feed is also a way for Facebook to address its moderation problem. Employees at Cognizant, the subcontractor worth $41 billion that moderates graphic or inappropriate content on Facebook, are exposed to traumatic material for long hours but don’t receive the same benefits as Facebook employees. [The Verge / Casey Newton]
  • And it addresses a big problem for Facebook in the past year — as people get savvier about the downsides of Facebook and think more about what they post, they likely post less. [Atlantic / Alexis Madrigal]
  • The pivot to privacy might assuage users who are worried about what Facebook is doing with their data, but it won’t automatically be a force for good. WhatsApp is still the platform where, in India, rumors and misinformation about child kidnappings spread via WhatsApp have contributed to dozens of lynchings and at least one fatal beating. [BuzzFeed News / Pranav Dixit and Ryan Mac]

Saudi Arabia’s rebuke on human rights

  • Thirty-six countries, including the entire European Union, signed a rebuke by the United Nations Human Rights Council against Saudi Arabia on Thursday. The measure demands the release of activists jailed for exercising their civil liberties. The activists were reportedly tortured. Saudi Arabia said in a statement that the rebuke was a politicized attack on its sovereignty. [Washington Post / Emily Tamkin]
  • It’s especially notable that all EU member countries were signatories — Saudi Arabia is a major Middle Eastern ally for Europe. The signatories demanded the release of nine women and one man who were imprisoned last May, and condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. [BBC]
  • Saudi Arabia’s reported human rights record has been difficult to investigate, especially as the country claims reports of torture are “fake.” Counter-accounts of Saudi Arabia’s behavior say the detained female activists were sexually assaulted, flogged, and shocked with electricity. The activists had campaigned for driver’s licenses for women. [Al Jazeera]
  • Who’s missing from the rebuke? The United States left the UN Human Rights Council last year. Congress hasn’t stayed away from condemning Saudi Arabia, unlike the White House. The hearing for Trump’s new selection for ambassador to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday prompted responses from senators about the country’s troubling behavior. [CNN / Nicole Gaouette]
  • Trump’s pick, Gen. John Abizaid, will be the first ambassador to Saudi Arabia since the current administration began. Abizaid has expressed support for a relationship with Saudi Arabia but made an effort in his hearing to call out Khashoggi’s killing and the treatment of the activists. Congress expressed concern regarding the Saudi crown prince’s leadership, as well as White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s opaque intelligence of Saudi activity. [The Hill / Rebecca Kheel]

Miscellaneous

  • The story of “one of the biggest scandals in Star Wars collecting history” — featuring a “Rocket Fett” figurine and a collector who turned out to be a thief. [Popular Mechanics / Alexander Huls]
  • President Trump promised to decrease the trade deficit. Instead, it grew by nearly $70 billion last year. [Slate / Jordan Weissmann]
  • A human rights lawyer who defended women activists who protested wearing the hijab was convicted in Iran. [Associated Press / Jon Gambrell]
  • The latest hot trend among Instagram influencers: being honest about where your money comes from. [Wired UK / Anna Codrea-Rado]

Verbatim

“I was not aware of that erosion of trust, and as prime minister and head of cabinet, I should have been. Ultimately, I believe our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues.” [Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a public address on Thursday]


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