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

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 two-day event with a keynote address in front of about 5,000 attendees in San Jose, California, that revolved around his desire to make Facebook privacy-centric.

It’s unclear if the new design and approach will usher in real change for the beleaguered company that reaches 2 billion people around the world, or if it’s just a new coat of paint.

“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.

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 an in-app AR camera 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 announced at F8 last year. The tool, which is undergoing testing in countries such as Colombia and Canada, will roll out to 14 more countries today and to the US 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.

A new option called “secret crush” will let users create a private list of friends they’re interested in dating. If two friends puts 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.

The most important new features may be less exciting, like increased encryption options. 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).

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

The company has had a turbulent past year, with a seemingly never-ending string of scandals touching on 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 and spin 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.

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