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Security & privacy

Facebook plans to split in two

Is this a good idea or a bad one? With Facebook, you just never know.

Facebook, with its continuing string of security mishaps and questionable actions, plans to split the company in two. There would be one public site and another private encrypted site. What this means to account holders, law enforcement and advertisers isn’t clear yet.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about the split for the first time on April 24. Last month, he published a more than 3,000 word blog post about the split. The news comes on the heels of Facebook looking at a $3 billion to $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The fine is for not doing enough to protect account holders’ privacy

The Facebook split

During a quarterly earnings call with analysts, Zuckerberg offered more details about the breakup, which is already being tested in Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia, Slovakia and Sri Lanka.

Zuckerberg said he wants to create two distinct spaces: a public forum or “town square,” and a private encrypted space or “living room.”

What does that mean? Well, the “town square” would be focused on friends and family. The “living room” would be solely for pages account holders’ like, allowing for private, encrypted chats. For companies of all kinds — including news outlets — that means having to buy ad space to be seen in the “town square.”

Experts say the split could limit Facebook’s ability to gather personal data, something lawmakers and consumers have been calling on the company to do since the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

But the encrypted messages in the “living room” could hamper law enforcement efforts to catch criminals. Already, tech companies are loath to give encryption keys to governments and law enforcement. Facebook has shown an unwillingness, or extreme slowness, in removing terrorists, pedophiles and disturbing videos from its sites.

In his blog post, Zuckerberg addressed this issue.

“Encryption is a powerful tool for privacy, but that includes the privacy of people doing bad things,” he wrote. “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.”


Related: How to tell if your Facebook account has been hacked


During the call, Zuckerberg said the company will consult with experts, government and law enforcement for about a year before launching the private site. He said it could take up to 5 years or more to implement the plan.

FTC fine doesn’t phase Facebook

Also tucked into the analysts’ call was news that Facebook was setting aside $3 billion for the FTC fine.

“We estimate that the range of loss in this matter is $3 billion to $5 billion,” the quarterly statement said. “The matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome.”

At least one expert said Facebook’s announcement may be a negotiating tool as the company and FTC continue to hammer out an agreement on the fine.

But even at $5 billion, Facebook is flush with cash. Despite setting aside $3 billion the company still reported a profit of $2.4 billion for the first 3 months of the year.

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