Traditionally, developer conferences are meant to get developers fired up about building stuff on some tech company’s technology platform. These days it’s a little more complicated.

I’ve already been to two of

They’re talking to advertisers. At least in Facebook’s and Google’s cases, legions of marketing and advertising types are listening to find out the future of their go-to platforms for reaching customers. They too are dancing delicately, if far less publicly, around personal privacy, and they want to know what privacy concessions might be made by the companies that could effect the potency of the targeting data, and the industry’s data practices as a whole.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella approached the privacy issue in somewhat different ways, but they all shrewdly addressed the same audiences.

Facebook’s privacy turn

At Facebook’s F8, CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook’s world-uniting power is temporarily being overshadowed by its harmful by-products–like its enabling of mass incivility, election tampering, and large-scale erosion of personal privacy. (Zuckerberg’s F8 joke that his company doesn’t have a great record on privacy fell painfully flat, in perhaps the most poignant demonstration of the CEO’s disconnect from real life.) He then talked in sincere tones about the changes his company would make to rebuild itself around private interactions between members, as opposed to open and social ones.

“I believe the future is private,” Zuckerberg said. “We should have private messaging, groups, payments, and private ways to share location–the private parts of our social network will be more important than our digital town squares.”

It sounded sincere. But while Zuckerberg said ephemeral (disappearing) messages were part of Facebook’s overall privacy vision, he didn’t say when or if Messenger or Instagram Direct or WhatsApp would support them. While WhatsApp supports end-to-end encryption already, Zuck said Messenger and Instagram Direct would get it, too, but never said when. Just like he didn’t say when in 2018 with the announcement of Clear History, which has never been heard from again. Same story with the Data Transfer Project portability feature. More than a week after the event, it all seems a bit, well, ephemeral.

Facebook announced a redesign to its core Facebook app that seems to play up the Groups feature. This appears to be the follow-through on the announcement the company made in 2018 in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal that it would put “meaningful content” from friends, family, and groups front and center. But there’s no significant proof Facebook users are flocking over to Groups from the open social network.