Facebook F8: Messenger, VR, privacy and everything else we expect
The social network's scandals cast long shadows over the annual event.
Queenie WongFormer Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
ExpertiseI've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art.Credentials
Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg uses the F8 developer conference to talk about the future of his social network. This time around, he'll likely address its current problems.
Zuckerberg shares big, hopeful messages. Facebook's mission, he says, is "to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." Devices, like its Oculus line of virtual reality headsets, would help achieve that end by making experience more immersive, as if you're with your family and friends in person.
But a long list of scandals has derailed that idealistic goal. Facebook was used to run interference campaigns during the 2016 US presidential election, raising uncomfortable questions about social media's role in our lives. The social network has been used to fuel violence, including a genocide in Myanmar. Privacy and security blunders, which could result in a record-setting fine from the FTC, sparked concerns about the responsiveness and transparency of the company's leadership.
So Zuckerberg will likely use his April 30 keynote to show the public, as well as increasingly vigilant lawmakers, that he can get the world's largest social network on the right track. At stake is whether Facebook can regain the public's trust.
(F8 will be held at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and ends on May 1.)
Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, says Zuckerberg could call on developers to help him make Facebook safer. The 34-year-old tech mogul will also try to avoid appearing "overconfident," as he has in the past, Pachter says.
"He will be as humble as he can muster," Pachter said. "He will acknowledge he's done a lot wrong."
Facebook isn't going away anytime soon. Facebook's earnings, which came out on Wednesday, shows that around 2.7 billion people use the social network, as well as WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger each month. The company is expected to showcase new features coming to messaging, virtual reality and other products.
Here's what to expect at F8:
In 2016, Zuckerberg used F8 to outline a 10-year roadmap for Facebook. Much has changed since then, and Zuckerberg said during Wednesday's earnings call he's going to share more about the company's "privacy-focused" vision at the conference.
More Facebook users are sharing privately in groups, messaging apps and Stories, a Snapchat-like feature that lets you post photos and videos that vanish in 24 hours.
"I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won't stick around forever," Zuckerberg said in March.
New features are already in the works. A big one: Allowing WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram users to send messages to one another without switching apps. Facebook is also looking at a way to let users schedule messages for deletion, say after a month or year.
Facebook's focus on groups, messaging and Stories has raised questions about how the social network will moderate offensive content as it balances privacy with safety. Zuckerbeg's keynote will be an opportunity for him to address those issues but also showcase new features for the social network's private spaces.
Facebook's F8 schedule is packed with panels about the social network's messaging app. This year's theme is a "conversation about technology and human connection."
Nine panels about messaging are scheduled on the first day. Topics include helping businesses provide better customer service, attract more clients and bolster their brand.
It's no surprise. Messenger, which has more than 1.3 billion users, typically has a starring role at F8. In previous years, Facebook has opened up its messaging app to chatbots -- computer programs designed to mimic human speech -- so users could converse with businesses. It also added new augmented reality effects so users could virtually "try on" new products like makeup.
This year, you'll likely hear more about how Messenger plans to help people connect with their friends, as well as businesses. Earlier this year, Facebook redesigned the app so it would be easier for users to browse. The redesign allowed for the addition of more features.
Privacy and security
Facebook's track record for user privacy and security hasn't improved much this year.
Last month, the social network revealed that it had stored hundreds of millions of passwords in plain text, meaning company employees could have read them. Facebook says no one "improperly accessed" the data -- so that's a relief -- but it's notifying impacted users.
That wasn't the end of Facebook's privacy mishaps. Earlier this month, the company revealed that it "unintentionally" harvested email contacts from 1.5 million users.
The incidents might not be as alarming the Cambridge Analytica scandal from 2018, which involved the social network allowing data on 87 million Facebook users to be vacuumed up without their permission. But they show Facebook, which still hasn't launched a promised tool for clearing search histories, has a lot of work to do on privacy.
F8 will be a good opportunity for the company to demonstrate what it's doing to fix these issues.
Zuckerberg has said in interviews that he believes VR is "good candidate" to become the next big computing platform, but anticipates it could take at least a decade before the technology goes mainstream.
Facebook still isn't giving up on VR. This year, the social network will livestream the F8 keynote in VR through Oculus Venues, a social VR app for Oculus Go and Gear VR.
Facebook could launch two new VR headsets at F8. One is the Oculus Quest, a virtual reality headset that doesn't require a powerful computer. The other is the Oculus Rift S, an updated PC-powered headset. Both cost $399 and are scheduled to launch this spring, but Facebook hasn't announced the exact dates.
Facebook's F8 schedule also shows the company is still focused on augmented reality, computer-generated images layered over real-world environments. The conference includes panels on AR Music and AR for Instagram.
But ultimately, the limelight will continue to shine on Zuckerberg, and whether he can convince the public that this latest shift is reason enough to trust the company again.