Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Picture: JOSH EDELSON / AFP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Picture: JOSH EDELSON / AFP

San Francisco — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said the company would encrypt conversations on more of its messaging services and make them compatible, the latest sign that the world’s biggest social network sees its future in intimate online chats.

Zuckerberg said in a post on his Facebook profile that “working towards implementing end-to-end encryption for all private communications is the right thing to do.” He cautioned that details of the plan could change, however, as the company consults experts throughout 2019.

The strategy could frustrate law enforcement surveillance efforts as well as legislators who have called on Facebook to better moderate user content. It also would limit the company’s ability to generate revenue through targeted ads.

But Zuckerberg said he could live with those tradeoffs because users want better control of their data while still having easy access to their contacts.

As part of Zuckerberg’s strategy, a Facebook user would be able to communicate with WhatsApp users while only having a Messenger account and vice versa.

“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,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook shares rose 0.7%.

Legislators, users and investors have expressed concerns over the past  two years that Facebook is not doing enough to safeguard user data after a series of breaches and privacy bugs.

Facebook is one of the biggest global players in private messaging with its WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, each used by more than 1-billion people. Only WhatsApp fully secures conversations from all outsiders, including Facebook itself.

Police have raised concerns about introducing similar security to the other services because they would no longer be able to access online chat records to track religious extremists or other perpetrators.

Regulators also want Facebook to increase moderation of user content, but more encryption would make it difficult to view and track problematic posts.

Encrypted conversations also limit Facebook’s ability to send targeted advertisements. Facebook may need to look for new ways to insert itself between businesses and consumers in order to generate revenue.

“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,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Reuters