Facebook debuts new look and features to help move past ‘old issues’

May 1, 2019, 6:48 AM | Updated: 10:02 am
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg has announced a new look for Facebook and a greater focus on privacy.

(CNN) — Facebook debuted a makeover for its main app on Tuesday and said the company is making a major shift in how it’s run.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the company’s two-day developer conference with a keynote address in front of about 5,000 attendees in San Jose, California, which revolved around his desire to make Facebook privacy-centric.

“I know we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly,” said Zuckerberg, acknowledging skepticism around the company. “I am committed to doing this well.”

It’s unclear if a new design and approach to privacy will usher in real change for the beleaguered company, which reaches more than 2 billion people around the world, or if it’s just a new coat of paint. It could take some time to see if the changes make a noticeable difference.

“I’m sure we’re going to keep unearthing old issues for a while, so it may feel like we’re not making progress at first,” said Zuckerberg.

In addition to a new Facebook app design with a focus on groups, Facebook showed off a faster Messenger app that includes ways to watch videos together, and new features for Instagram, including fund-raising and shopping options. It also announced its newest Oculus VR headsets would be available in May.

The company shared more news around its Facebook Dating feature, which was originally announced at F8 last year. The tool is undergoing testing in countries such as Colombia and Canada, and will roll out to 14 more countries today and to the United States later this year. People will be able to use their first name to set up a dating profile on the platform, but it won’t be visible to friends and will not show up in News Feeds.

The company announced a new dating option on Tuesday called “secret crush,” which will let users create a private list of friends they’re interested in dating. If two friends both put each other on their secret list, Facebook will alert them. The platform is also adding a feature called Make New Friends to connect users interested in meeting new people.

A plan to pivot to privacy

Zuckerberg outlined six principles he said the company is focusing on going forward: private interactions, encryption, reduced permanence (meaning content and messages that disappear), safety, interoperability (being able to communicate across the company’s different networks and platforms), and secure data storage (not storing user data in countries where it could be accessed, for example).

“Over the next few years we are going to build more of our services around these ideas,” said Zuckerberg. “This isn’t just about building features — we need to change a lot of the different ways that we run this company today.”

Facebook has had a turbulent past year with a seemingly never-ending string of scandals touching on data privacy, security, election meddling, misinformation and hate speech. It has spent large amounts of money and energy trying to address the issues and repair its reputation. Last week, Facebook said it was setting aside $3 billion to put toward an expected $3 billion to $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations.

Zuckerberg is no stranger to trying to diffuse the company’s problems. He has used media interviews, an appearance in front of Congress, and his own Facebook posts to repeatedly apologize for the company’s mistakes and promise to do better. Now he is promising a new kind of company that is all about privacy, with some dating features thrown in for fun.

What’s else is new across Facebook

Zuckberg and various Facebook executives announced a number of new features — some already here and others just in testing or conception phases. (They did not mention the Clear History tool, which has been delayed repeatedly since it was announced at F8 last year.) Here are some highlights.

Facebook: Hold onto your hat, the Facebook logo is now a circle instead of a square, and the mobile app has switched from a mostly blue design to mostly white. The new app design, which will roll out Tuesday, is largely surface updates. Groups will have a more prominent placement and new features, but key functions such as the News Feed remain largely unchanged. Similar updates to the desktop site will show up later this summer.

Instagram: Facebook’s hipper, image-focused social network is adding a way to buy products directly through “creators,” which include the verified brands and famous people on the platform. It will also test out hiding “likes” from public view to make users less stressed about their own popularity. It is also working on an “Away Mode” for sensitive times, and as a way to cut down on bullying. Other new Instagram changes include a new fundraiser feature in Instagram stories, and updates to the in-app camera feature.

Facebook Dating: This feature was announced a couple years ago but has only been tested in a couple of countries. Now Facebook Dating is launching in more places, including the United States by the end of the year, according to the company. The tool will help allow Facebook users to date people in their extended networks. A new feature, called Secret Crush, will encourage dating among friends, allowing you to secretly flag which friends make you feel warm inside. If they flag you too, the app will let you know the feeling is mutual.

Messenger: The Messenger app is getting a few upgrades in the future, including a smaller, faster version that will launch in “well under” two seconds. A new feature still in the testing phases will let people watch videos together in real time on Messenger, similar to Facebook’s Watch Party feature. It is also getting a desktop app for Windows and MacOS.

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