All posts in “Facebook Messenger”

Why notification sounds send you emotionally reeling into the past

It sounds like someone accidentally hit adjacent keys on a xylophone. The understated double ping hits me with a jolt of excitement, a swooping stomach, and even a bit of relief.

Whenever I hear the now-retired Facebook Messenger notification, I’m transported back to 2013, when I happily, gratefully, giddily got a message from someone I liked, who would later become my partner. Back then, we talked almost daily on, of all chat platforms, Messenger.

As devices, software applications, and apps become omnipresent, the User Interface (UI) sounds they emit — the pings, bings, and blongs vying for our attention — have also started to contribute to the sonic fabric of our lives. And just as a song has the power to take you back to a particular moment in time, the sounds emitted by our connected devices can trigger memories, thoughts, and feelings, too. 

“The sounds that we have are adding to that tapestry,” Will Littlejohn, Facebook’s sound design director, said.

If you’ve had a particularly stressful job with a trigger-happy boss, perhaps you feel a churn of anxiety when a notification tells you you’ve received an email. Or if you grew up a child of AOL, maybe an intense, vivid memory of using AIM as a tween occurs if someone plays you the iconic doors opening and closing sounds. When distinct and repeated sensory stimuli, like UI sounds, are paired with feelings, moods, and memories, our brains build bridges between the two. 

“Who we are is not just the neurons we have,”  Santiago Jaramillo, a University of Oregon neuroscientist who studies sound and the brain, said, referring to cells that transmit information. “It’s how they are connected.”

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My partner and I began our casual courtship in 2013. For the next year, as we flirted, chatted, and became increasingly part of each other’s lives, our preferred mode of communication was … Facebook Messenger. 

Facebook was already somewhat uncool by then — the days of painstaking album uploads had faded — but as young 20-somethings looking to chat during the day about nothing much, it worked for us. Somehow, texting felt too formal. But we weren’t on the level of chatting daily over Gchat, like we both did with our friends. We were friends on Facebook, and Messenger was a way we could stay in constant communication, without the commitment or overt familiarity of other platforms.

In the intervening years, I didn’t use Facebook Messenger much. But when I did, and when I received a sound notification when I wasn’t expecting it, I noticed that the sound would immediately make me think of my partner. I would even get a sweep of relief and excited nervousness, like the person I was interested in had just sent me a message to say “hi,” confirming that they liked me with a DM, all over again.

When I explained what happened with the Facebook Messenger sound, Jaramillo responded with a laugh: “You have been conditioned.” 

Pathways to the past

For the last 30 years, scientists have been using animals, like mice, to learn how sound becomes associated with a memory, thought, feeling, or state of being. They’ve discovered that your brain creates pathways connecting the parts that process sound with the parts linked to emotions and memories. 

When your brain registers some sort of stimulus, like a sound, you can process it in a variety of ways. You might have an innate response, such as jumping when you hear a loud sound. You might also glean information from the sound: For example, the sound of an idling engine tells you someone is waiting outside.

In the most basic experiments that illustrate this, researchers shock a mouse every time it hears a particular sound. After a certain amount of time, just hearing the sound — without the shock — causes the mouse to jump as if it had just been shocked. What I was experiencing when I felt my own jolt of excitement at the Facebook Messenger sound was a more complex version of this same phenomenon, Jaramillo explained.

“It is through these changes and connections in the brain that you associate these sounds with these responses,” Jaramillo said.

In the brain, a sound is never just the raw data of a sound wave: there’s always something more to it. According to a study Jaramillo published in January, we associate sounds with memories at the first pitstop sound makes in our brains: the auditory cortex. As it gets digested in more complex regions of the brain, those associations only grow stronger.

This can have a domino effect throughout the brain, prompting powerful feelings.

“It’s almost like a multiple step process,” Jaramillo said. “Once you bring an association, that brings with it many other associations.” 

Conditioning

I wondered why the Facebook Messenger sound prompted this reaction in me, while other sounds — like the Gchat notification sound — had no particular emotional effect. The Gchat sound is still coded with information (it’s telling me I’ve got a chat!) — but that information isn’t powerfully associated with a memory or feeling.

It turns out my partner and I had inadvertently created the perfect conditions for creating a strong neural pathway. 

“To be effective for creating associations, a sound has to be clearly differentiable,” Jaramillo said. “Then, if you have consistency and repetition, a strong association will be created.”

The Facebook Messenger sound hit all of these criteria. It was a unique sound, that was consistently associated with a specific experience, repeated many times. Because I only ever really talked to my partner (and not other people) on Facebook Messenger, I associated the sound with him; because we talked a lot, the association became strong; because we repeated the experience almost daily for about a year, it became engrained — so engrained that years after the fact, an unexpected encounter with the sound rendered the emotional memory as if it were happening all over again.

“There are experiments where you don’t present a sound for a long, long time,” Jaramillo said. “But if you present it years later, you may still recall the memories. Some of the neurons keep those memories. Some of those seem to be very powerful in how long they last, and researchers are still trying to understand what are the mechanisms that allow you to have such a long, long memory.”

Designing for life

Before notifications became a constant part of our lives, sound designers did not take as much care in their creation. Think of the grating early Nokia cellphone ring, or how annoying the AIM door shutting and opening could become if a friend got signed on or offline every time their computer went to sleep or woke up.

Today, sound designers are wiser, and more considerate, about how the sounds they design can be both useful, and — the holy grail of sound design — unnoticeable. A lot of that mission has to do with thinking through what emotions the sounds themselves might evoke.

“The best sound designers are not going to talk about the tools or the tech, they’re going to try to pull emotions out of people,” Dallas Taylor, a sound designer who runs a popular podcast about sound, called Twenty Thousand Hertz, said.

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These emotional considerations are something that sound designers consider at the highest levels. 

When Littlejohn, Facebook’s head of sound design, and his team design the sounds that populate Facebook, they try to create a sonic identity for the platform, while also presenting a neutral canvas.

“From the very beginning when we’re crafting sounds, we’re making sure that the sounds are designed in such a way that they will not create negative emotions over time,” Littlejohn said. “We’re not trying to create sounds that are creating positive associations overtly, what we’re trying to do is create sounds that have the potential to create great associations, if that’s the context in which they’re heard.”

In other words, the sounds themselves don’t create the emotions – the associations do. But the often repeated nature of UI sounds, and the social context in which they’re used, makes them ripe for emotional connections. 

“The sound itself can’t force a feeling,” Taylor said. “It has to be the context that that sound is in.”

Additionally, UI sounds themselves may be new — and specifically primed for association – but the phenomenon is just an extension of how our brains already process sound, whether created by the wind and the trees, or a buzz in our pocket.

“These cues are what help to bring context to what we’re experiencing with our other senses,” Littlejohn said. “That’s how we interact with the world. Whether it’s being created through a device, and we design what’s emitted, or whether it comes from nature or something mechanical, I think that relationship has always been there. It’s now manifested in a new way through technology.”

A leaking time capsule

Buried in an episode on UI sound design on Taylor’s podcast was the Facebook notification noise that soundtracked the first six to 12 months of my relationship. Unlike the new, high-pitched, cheery “pop ding” notification, this one, which was used by Facebook prior to 2014, is more musical, yet muted. When I heard it, I knew instantly that this was the true store of my emotional memories about those early flirtations.

Beginning in 2013, I heard the clumsy xylophone — while for latter day chats, the pop ding. And I have a deeper connection to the first one. Unbeknownst to me, the memory had been mummified in my brain, ready to be re-awoken by the podcast.

“The memory is kind of there in the brain, latent and hidden,” Jaramillo said. “If it gets associated again with the particular event, then it would reappear.”

Of course, the flip side of my sonic revelation is that the memories and emotions associated with the post-2014 sound are becoming diluted. I recently started using Messenger more to communicate with a group of colleagues. The butterflies in my stomach don’t flutter as hard when I hear the pop ding these days. But they still do when I hear the vintage notes.

“When you hear the same sound, but you don’t get exposed to the same thing, then the association can fade,” Jaramillo said.

Thanks to a technological coincidence, I have a nostalgic jewel contained within a sound I am unlikely to hear, unless I seek it out. That’s especially powerful for me today, six years later. But I can’t go back to it all the time, or the association will become weaker.

But I don’t need to, anyway; as my partner and I create new sonic associations I may discover in another six, 16, or 60 years that those first six months are still encased in neural amber. And that’s enough to make my stomach flip whenever I choose to think about it.

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Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois discuss major announcements that came out of Facebook’s F8 conference and dig into how Facebook is trying to redefine itself for the future.

Though touted as a developer-focused conference, Facebook spent much of F8 discussing privacy upgrades, how the company is improving its social impact, and a series of new initiatives on the consumer and enterprise side. Josh and Frederic discuss which announcements seem to make the most strategic sense, and which may create attractive (or unattractive) opportunities for new startups and investment.

“This F8 was aspirational for Facebook. Instead of being about what Facebook is, and accelerating the growth of it, this F8 was about Facebook, and what Facebook wants to be in the future.

That’s not the newsfeed, that’s not pages, that’s not profiles. That’s marketplace, that’s Watch, that’s Groups. With that change, Facebook is finally going to start to decouple itself from the products that have dragged down its brand over the last few years through a series of nonstop scandals.”

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Josh and Frederic dive deeper into Facebook’s plans around its redesign, Messenger, Dating, Marketplace, WhatsApp, VR, smart home hardware and more. The two also dig into the biggest news, or lack thereof, on the developer side, including Facebook’s Ax and BoTorch initiatives.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Facebook Messenger will get desktop apps, co-watching, emoji status

To win chat, Facebook Messenger must be as accessible as SMS, yet more entertaining than Snapchat. Today, Messenger pushes on both fronts with a series of announcements at Facebook’s F8 conference, including that it will launch Mac and PC desktop apps, a faster and smaller mobile app, simultaneous video co-watching and a revamped Friends tab, where friends can use an emoji to tell you what they’re up to or down for.

Facebook is also beefing up its tools for the 40 million active businesses and 300,000 businesses on Messenger, up from 200,000 businesses a year ago. Merchants will be able to let users book appointments at salons and masseuses, collect information with new lead generation chatbot templates and provide customer service to verified customers through authenticated m.me links. Facebook hopes this will boost the app beyond the 20 billion messages sent between people and businesses each month, which is up 10X from December 2017.

“We believe you can build practically any utility on top of messaging,” says Facebook’s head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky. But he stresses that “All of the engineering behind it is has been redone” to make it more reliable, and to comply with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s directive to unite the backends of Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct. “Of course, if we didn’t have to do all that, we’d be able to invest more in utilities. But we feel that utilities will be less functional if we don’t do that work. They need to go hand-in-hand together. Utilities will be more powerful, more functional and more desired if built on top of a system that’s interoperable and end-to-end encrypted.”

Here’s a look at the major Messenger announcements and why they’re important:

Messenger Desktop – A stripped-down version of Messenger focused on chat, audio and video calls will debut later this year. Chudnovsky says it will remove the need to juggle and resize browser tabs by giving you an always-accessible version of Messenger that can replace some of the unofficial knock-offs. Especially as Messenger focuses more on businesses, giving them a dedicated desktop interface could convince them to invest more in lead generation and customer service through Messenger.

Facebook Messenger’s upcoming desktop app

Project Lightspeed – Messenger is reengineering its app to cut 70 mb off its download size so people with low-storage phones don’t have to delete as many photos to install it. In testing, the app can cold start in merely 1.3 seconds, which Chudnovsky says is just 25 percent of where Messenger and many other apps are today. While Facebook already offers Messenger Light for the developing world, making the main app faster for everyone else could help Messenger swoop in and steal users from the status quo of SMS. The Lightspeed update will roll out later this year.

Video Co-Watching – TechCrunch reported in November that Messenger was building a Facebook Watch Party-style experience that would let users pick videos to watch at the same time as a friend, with reaction cams of their faces shown below the video. Now in testing before rolling out later this year, users can pick any Facebook video, invite one or multiple friends and laugh together. Unique capabilities like this could make Messenger more entertaining between utilitarian chat threads and appeal to a younger audience Facebook is at risk of losing.

Watch Videos Together on Messenger

Business Tools – After a rough start to its chatbot program a few years ago, where bots couldn’t figure out users’ open-ended responses, Chudnovsky says the platform is now picking up steam with 300,000 developers on board. One option that’s worked especially well is lead-generation templates, which teach bots to ask people standardized questions to collect contact info or business intent, so Messenger is adding more of those templates with completion reminders and seamless hand-off to a live agent.

To let users interact with appointment-based businesses through a platform they’re already familiar with, Messenger launched a beta program for barbers, dentists and more that will soon open to let any business handle appointment booking through the app. And with new authenticated m.me links, a business can take a logged-in user on their website and pass them to Messenger while still knowing their order history and other info. Getting more businesses hooked on Messenger customer service could be very lucrative down the line.

Appointment booking on Messenger

Close Friends and Emoji Status – Perhaps the most interesting update to Messenger, though, is its upcoming effort to help you make offline plans. Messenger is in the early stages of rebuilding its Friends tab into “Close Friends,” which will host big previews of friends’ Stories, photos shared in your chats, and let people overlay an emoji on their profile pic to show friends what they’re doing. We first reported this “Your Emoji” status update feature was being built a year ago, but it quietly cropped up in the video for Messenger Close Friends. This iteration lets you add an emoji like a home, barbell, low battery or beer mug, plus a short text description, to let friends know you’re back from work, at the gym, might not respond or are interested in getting a drink. These will show up atop the Close Friends tab as well as on location-sharing maps and more once this eventually rolls out.

Messenger’s upcoming Close Friends tab with Your Emoji status

Facebook Messenger is the best poised app to solve the loneliness problem. We often end up by ourselves because we’re not sure which of our friends are free to hang out, and we’re embarrassed to look desperate by constantly reaching out. But with emoji status, Messenger users could quietly signal their intentions without seeming needy. This “what are you doing offline” feature could be a whole social network of its own, as apps like Down To Lunch have tried. But with 1.3 billion users and built-in chat, Messenger has the ubiquity and utility to turn a hope into a hangout.

Zuckerberg wants messages to auto-expire to make Facebook a ‘living room’

On feed-based “broader social networks, where people can accumulate friends or followers until the services feel more public . . . it feels more like a town square than a more intimate space like a living room” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a blog post today. With messaging, groups, and ephemeral stories as the fastest growing social features, Zuckerberg laid out why he’s rethinking Facebook as a private living room where people can be comfortable being themselves without fear of hackers, government spying, and embarrassment from old content — all without encryption allowing bad actors to hide their crimes.

Perhaps this will just be more lip service in a time of PR crisis for Facebook. But with the business imperative fueled by social networking’s shift away from permanent feed broadcasting, Facebook can espouse the philosophy of privacy while in reality servicing its shareholders and bottom line. It’s this alignment that actually spurs product change. We saw Facebook’s agility with last year’s realization that a misinformation- and hate-plagued platform wouldn’t survive long-term so it had to triple its security and moderation staff. And in 2017, recognizing the threat of Stories, it implemented them across its apps. Now Facebook might finally see the dollar signs within privacy.

The New York Times’ Mike Isaac recently reported that Facebook planned to unify its Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram messaging infrastructure to allow cross-app messaging and end-to-end encryption. And Zuckerberg discussed this and the value of ephemerality on the recent earnings call. But now Zuckerberg has roadmapped a clearer slate of changes and policies to turn Facebook into a living room:

-Facebook will let users opt in to the ability to send or receive messages across Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram

-Facebook wants to expand that interoperability to SMS on Android

-Zuckerberg wants to make ephemerality automatic on messaging threads, so chats disappear by default after a month or year, with users able to control that or put timers on individual messages.

-Facebook plans to limit how long it retains metadata on messages once it’s no longer needed for spam or safety protections

-Facebook will extend end-to-end encryption across its messaging apps but use metadata and other non-content signals to weed out criminals using privacy to hide their misdeeds.

-Facebook won’t store data in countries with a bad track record of privacy abuse such as Russia, even if that means having to shut down or postpone operations in a country

You can read the full blog post from Zuckerberg below:

A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking

My focus for the last couple of years has been understanding and addressing the biggest challenges facing Facebook. This means taking positions on important issues concerning the future of the internet. In this note, I’ll outline our vision and principles around building a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform. There’s a lot to do here, and we’re committed to working openly and consulting with experts across society as we develop this.

Over the last 15 years, Facebook and Instagram have helped people connect with friends, communities, and interests in the digital equivalent of a town square. But people increasingly also want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room. As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.

Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication. There are a number of reasons for this. Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends. People are more cautious of having a permanent record of what they’ve shared. And we all expect to be able to do things like payments privately and securely.

Public social networks will continue to be very important in people’s lives — for connecting with everyone you know, discovering new people, ideas and content, and giving people a voice more broadly. People find these valuable every day, and there are still a lot of useful services to build on top of them. But now, with all the ways people also want to interact privately, there’s also an opportunity to build a simpler platform that’s focused on privacy first.

I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform — because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing. But we’ve repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.

I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever. This is the future I hope we will help bring about.

We plan to build this the way we’ve developed WhatsApp: focus on the most fundamental and private use case — messaging — make it as secure as possible, and then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services.

This privacy-focused platform will be built around several principles:

Private interactions. People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share.

Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services.

Permanence. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won’t keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want it.

Safety. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service.

Interoperability. People should be able to use any of our apps to reach their friends, and they should be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.

Secure data storage. People should expect that we won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.

Over the next few years, we plan to rebuild more of our services around these ideas. The decisions we’ll face along the way will mean taking positions on important issues concerning the future of the internet. We understand there are a lot of tradeoffs to get right, and we’re committed to consulting with experts and discussing the best way forward. This will take some time, but we’re not going to develop this major change in our direction behind closed doors. We’re going to do this as openly and collaboratively as we can because many of these issues affect different parts of society.

Private Interactions as a Foundation

For a service to feel private, there must never be any doubt about who you are communicating with. We’ve worked hard to build privacy into all our products, including those for public sharing. But one great property of messaging services is that even as your contacts list grows, your individual threads and groups remain private. As your friends evolve over time, messaging services evolve gracefully and remain intimate.

This is different from broader social networks, where people can accumulate friends or followers until the services feel more public. This is well-suited to many important uses — telling all your friends about something, using your voice on important topics, finding communities of people with similar interests, following creators and media, buying and selling things, organizing fundraisers, growing businesses, or many other things that benefit from having everyone you know in one place. Still, when you see all these experiences together, it feels more like a town square than a more intimate space like a living room.

There is an opportunity to build a platform that focuses on all of the ways people want to interact privately. This sense of privacy and intimacy is not just about technical features — it is designed deeply into the feel of the service overall. In WhatsApp, for example, our team is obsessed with creating an intimate environment in every aspect of the product. Even where we’ve built features that allow for broader sharing, it’s still a less public experience. When the team built groups, they put in a size limit to make sure every interaction felt private. When we shipped stories on WhatsApp, we limited public content because we worried it might erode the feeling of privacy to see lots of public content — even if it didn’t actually change who you’re sharing with.

In a few years, I expect future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network. We’re focused on making both of these apps faster, simpler, more private and more secure, including with end-to-end encryption. We then plan to add more ways to interact privately with your friends, groups, and businesses. If this evolution is successful, interacting with your friends and family across the Facebook network will become a fundamentally more private experience.

Encryption and Safety

People expect their private communications to be secure and to only be seen by the people they’ve sent them to — not hackers, criminals, over-reaching governments, or even the people operating the services they’re using.

There is a growing awareness that the more entities that have access to your data, the more vulnerabilities there are for someone to misuse it or for a cyber attack to expose it. There is also a growing concern among some that technology may be centralizing power in the hands of governments and companies like ours. And some people worry that our services could access their messages and use them for advertising or in other ways they don’t expect.

End-to-end encryption is an important tool in developing a privacy-focused social network. Encryption is decentralizing — it limits services like ours from seeing the content flowing through them and makes it much harder for anyone else to access your information. This is why encryption is an increasingly important part of our online lives, from banking to healthcare services. It’s also why we built end-to-end encryption into WhatsApp after we acquired it.

In the last year, I’ve spoken with dissidents who’ve told me encryption is the reason they are free, or even alive. Governments often make unlawful demands for data, and while we push back and fight these requests in court, there’s always a risk we’ll lose a case — and if the information isn’t encrypted we’d either have to turn over the data or risk our employees being arrested if we failed to comply. This may seem extreme, but we’ve had a case where one of our employees was actually jailed for not providing access to someone’s private information even though we couldn’t access it since it was encrypted.

At the same time, there are real safety concerns to address before we can implement end-to-end encryption across all of our messaging services. Encryption is a powerful tool for privacy, but that includes the privacy of people doing bad things. When billions of people use a service to connect, some of them are going to misuse it for truly terrible things like child exploitation, terrorism, and extortion. We have a responsibility to work with law enforcement and to help prevent these wherever we can. We are working to improve our ability to identify and stop bad actors across our apps by detecting patterns of activity or through other means, even when we can’t see the content of the messages, and we will continue to invest in this work. But we face an inherent tradeoff because we will never find all of the potential harm we do today when our security systems can see the messages themselves.

Finding the right ways to protect both privacy and safety is something societies have historically grappled with. There are still many open questions here and we’ll consult with safety experts, law enforcement and governments on the best ways to implement safety measures. We’ll also need to work together with other platforms to make sure that as an industry we get this right. The more we can create a common approach, the better.

On balance, I believe working towards implementing end-to-end encryption for all private communications is the right thing to do. Messages and calls are some of the most sensitive private conversations people have, and in a world of increasing cyber security threats and heavy-handed government intervention in many countries, people want us to take the extra step to secure their most private data. That seems right to me, as long as we take the time to build the appropriate safety systems that stop bad actors as much as we possibly can within the limits of an encrypted service. We’ve started working on these safety systems building on the work we’ve done in WhatsApp, and we’ll discuss them with experts through 2019 and beyond before fully implementing end-to-end encryption. As we learn more from those experts, we’ll finalize how to roll out these systems.

Reducing Permanence

We increasingly believe it’s important to keep information around for shorter periods of time. People want to know that what they share won’t come back to hurt them later, and reducing the length of time their information is stored and accessible will help.

One challenge in building social tools is the “permanence problem”. As we build up large collections of messages and photos over time, they can become a liability as well as an asset. For example, many people who have been on Facebook for a long time have photos from when they were younger that could be embarrassing. But people also really love keeping a record of their lives. And if all posts on Facebook and Instagram disappeared, people would lose access to a lot of valuable knowledge and experiences others have shared.

I believe there’s an opportunity to set a new standard for private communication platforms — where content automatically expires or is archived over time. Stories already expire after 24 hours unless you archive them, and that gives people the comfort to share more naturally. This philosophy could be extended to all private content.

For example, messages could be deleted after a month or a year by default. This would reduce the risk of your messages resurfacing and embarrassing you later. Of course you’d have the ability to change the timeframe or turn off auto-deletion for your threads if you wanted. And we could also provide an option for you to set individual messages to expire after a few seconds or minutes if you wanted.

It also makes sense to limit the amount of time we store messaging metadata. We use this data to run our spam and safety systems, but we don’t always need to keep it around for a long time. An important part of the solution is to collect less personal data in the first place, which is the way WhatsApp was built from the outset.

Interoperability

People want to be able to choose which service they use to communicate with people. However, today if you want to message people on Facebook you have to use Messenger, on Instagram you have to use Direct, and on WhatsApp you have to use WhatsApp. We want to give people a choice so they can reach their friends across these networks from whichever app they prefer.

We plan to start by making it possible for you to send messages to your contacts using any of our services, and then to extend that interoperability to SMS too. Of course, this would be opt-in and you will be able to keep your accounts separate if you’d like.

There are privacy and security advantages to interoperability. For example, many people use Messenger on Android to send and receive SMS texts. Those texts can’t be end-to-end encrypted because the SMS protocol is not encrypted. With the ability to message across our services, however, you’d be able to send an encrypted message to someone’s phone number in WhatsApp from Messenger.

This could also improve convenience in many experiences where people use Facebook or Instagram as their social network and WhatsApp as their preferred messaging service. For example, lots of people selling items on Marketplace list their phone number so people can message them about buying it. That’s not ideal, because you’re giving strangers your phone number. With interoperability, you’d be able to use WhatsApp to receive messages sent to your Facebook account without sharing your phone number — and the buyer wouldn’t have to worry about whether you prefer to be messaged on one network or the other.

You can imagine many simple experiences — a person discovers a business on Instagram and easily transitions to their preferred messaging app for secure payments and customer support; another person wants to catch up with a friend and can send them a message that goes to their preferred app without having to think about where that person prefers to be reached; or you simply post a story from your day across both Facebook and Instagram and can get all the replies from your friends in one place.

You can already send and receive SMS texts through Messenger on Android today, and we’d like to extend this further in the future, perhaps including the new telecom RCS standard. However, there are several issues we’ll need to work through before this will be possible. First, Apple doesn’t allow apps to interoperate with SMS on their devices, so we’d only be able to do this on Android. Second, we’d need to make sure interoperability doesn’t compromise the expectation of encryption that people already have using WhatsApp. Finally, it would create safety and spam vulnerabilities in an encrypted system to let people send messages from unknown apps where our safety and security systems couldn’t see the patterns of activity.

These are significant challenges and there are many questions here that require further consultation and discussion. But if we can implement this, we can give people more choice to use their preferred service to securely reach the people they want.

Secure Data Storage

People want to know their data is stored securely in places they trust. Looking at the future of the internet and privacy, I believe one of the most important decisions we’ll make is where we’ll build data centers and store people’s sensitive data.

There’s an important difference between providing a service in a country and storing people’s data there. As we build our infrastructure around the world, we’ve chosen not to build data centers in countries that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression. If we build data centers and store sensitive data in these countries, rather than just caching non-sensitive data, it could make it easier for those governments to take people’s information.

Upholding this principle may mean that our services will get blocked in some countries, or that we won’t be able to enter others anytime soon. That’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make. We do not believe storing people’s data in some countries is a secure enough foundation to build such important internet infrastructure on.

Of course, the best way to protect the most sensitive data is not to store it at all, which is why WhatsApp doesn’t store any encryption keys and we plan to do the same with our other services going forward.

But storing data in more countries also establishes a precedent that emboldens other governments to seek greater access to their citizen’s data and therefore weakens privacy and security protections for people around the world. I think it’s important for the future of the internet and privacy that our industry continues to hold firm against storing people’s data in places where it won’t be secure.

Next Steps

Over the next year and beyond, there are a lot more details and trade-offs to work through related to each of these principles. A lot of this work is in the early stages, and we are committed to consulting with experts, advocates, industry partners, and governments — including law enforcement and regulators — around the world to get these decisions right.

At the same time, working through these principles is only the first step in building out a privacy-focused social platform. Beyond that, significant thought needs to go into all of the services we build on top of that foundation — from how people do payments and financial transactions, to the role of businesses and advertising, to how we can offer a platform for other private services.

But these initial questions are critical to get right. If we do this well, we can create platforms for private sharing that could be even more important to people than the platforms we’ve already built to help people share and connect more openly.

Doing this means taking positions on some of the most important issues facing the future of the internet. As a society, we have an opportunity to set out where we stand, to decide how we value private communications, and who gets to decide how long and where data should be stored.

I believe we should be working towards a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won’t all stick around forever. If we can help move the world in this direction, I will be proud of the difference we’ve made.

Facebook now lets everyone unsend messages for up to 10 minutes

Facebook has finally made good on its promise to let users unsend chats after TechCrunch discovered Mark Zuckerberg had secretly retracted some of his Facebook Messages from recipients. Today Facebook Messenger globally rolls out “Remove for everyone” to help you pull back typos, poor choices, embarrassing thoughts, or any other message.

For up to 10 minutes after sending a Facebook Message, the sender can tap on it and they’ll find the delete button has been replaced by “Remove for you”, but there’s now also a “Remove for everyone” option that pulls the message from recipients’ inboxes. They’ll see an alert that you removed a message in its place, and can still flag the message to Facebook who’ll retain the content briefly to see if its reported. The feature could make people more comfortable having honest conversations or using Messenger for flirting since they can second guess what they send, but it won’t let people change ancient history.

The company abused its power by altering the history of Zuckerberg’s Facebook’s messages in a way that email or other communication mediums wouldn’t allow. Yet Facebook refused to say if it will now resume removing executives’ messages from recipients even long after they’re delivered after telling TechCrunch in April that “until this feature is ready, we will no longer be deleting any executives’ messages.”

For a quick recap, here’s how Facebook got to Unsend:

-Facebook Messenger never had an Unsend option, except in its encrypted Secret messaging product where you can set an expiration timer on chats, or in Instagram Direct.

-In April 2018, TechCrunch reported that some of Mark Zuckerberg’s messages had been removed from the inboxes of recipients, including non-employees. There was no trace of the chats in the message thread, leaving his conversation partners looking like they were talking to themselves, but email receipts proved the messages had been sent but later disappeared.

-Facebook claimed this was partly because it was “limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages” for security purposes in the wake of the Sony Pictures hack, yet it never explained why only some messages to some people had been removed.

-The next morning, Facebook changed its tune and announced it’d build an Unsned button for everyone, providing this statement: “We have discussed this feature several times . . . We will now be making a broader delete message feature available. This may take some time. And until this feature is ready, we will no longer be deleting any executives’ messages. We should have done this sooner — and we’re sorry that we did not.”

-Six months later in October 2018, Facebook still hadn’t launched Unesned, but then TechCrunch found Facebook had been prototyping the feature.

-In November, Facebook started to roll out the feature with the current “Remove for everyone” design and 10 minute limit

-Now every iOS and Messenger user globally will get the Unsend feature

So will Facebook start retracting executives’ messages again? It’d only say that the new feature would be available to both users and employees. But in Zuckerberg’s case, messages from years ago were removed in a way users still aren’t allowed to. Remove for everyone could make messaging on Facebook a little less anxiety-inducing. But it shouldn’t have taken Facebook being caught stealing from the inboxes of its users to get it built.