Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is declaring at the social networking company’s biggest conference of the year that the “future is private.”

“I know we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg, acknowledging skepticism around the move. “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, or if it’s just a new coat of paint.

Zuckerberg outlined principles he said the company is now focusing on, including private interactions, encryption, disappearing content and secure data storage.

He also said he would integrate Instagram and Whatsapp more closely. Investors are eager to understand how the changes will affect the company’s advertising business.

Zuckerberg kicked off the company’s annual F8 developer conference Tuesday with  details about his new “privacy-focused” vision for the social network — including a major redesign of Facebook’s app and website that is built around letting people connect with small groups.

Facebook noted that it is “building a more privacy-focused social platform — giving people spaces where they can express themselves freely and feel connected to the people and communities that matter most.”

The new features are part of Zuckerberg’s strategy for batting away Facebook’s growing array of critics, emboldened regulators and competitors. Zuckerberg acknowledged the skepticism of the company during his keynote.

“Look, I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we are serious about this,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “We are committed to doing this well and to starting a new chapter for our products.”

Facebook photo

Facebook unveils a new look to its app with exec Fidji Simo outlining details. (Facebook photo)

Zuckerberg and his lieutenant, Sheryl Sandberg, have apologized repeatedly over the past year for Facebook’s ever-expanding list of mishaps over privacy, data misuse and security problems. Last week, the company said it is setting aside $3 billion to cover a possible fine from the Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations. Facebook has suffered hacks, allowed hate speech and live-streamed mass-shooting horror.

Amid all that, Zuckerberg is focusing Facebook’s future by emphasizing private messaging and Facebook’s role in “communities.”

A redesigned Facebook app and desktop version of the site puts private groups in the center of the page. More than 400 million users are in “meaningful” groups — Facebook pages meant to bring people with similar ideas together — according to the company. The redesign is structured to make it as easy to connect with groups as with individual friends, Zuckerberg said.

“This redesign makes it easy for people to go from public spaces to more private ones, like Groups,” Facebook explained in a blog post.

“There are tens of millions of active groups on Facebook. When people find the right one, it often becomes the most meaningful part of how they use Facebook. Today, more than 400 million people on Facebook belong to a group that they find meaningful.”

Recommended groups will appear on users’ homepages, and Facebook users will now be able to share a status to friends and a group from the same text box.

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Groups have also caused controversy for the company, especially as communities pop up around extremist topics. Facebook is working to remove groups that have “harmful content,” Zuckerberg said, and deemphasize groups that share misleading information.

The redesigned mobile app is live for U.S. users today, and the desktop version is coming later this year.

A desktop app for Messenger is also coming later this year — and Messenger will eventually make end-to-end encryption the default setting for all messages, rather than an opt-in choice. Facebook executives mentioned that eventually users will be able to send Instagram and WhatsApp messages all from Messenger.

Inside WhatsApp — by far Facebook’s most secure app — the company is making statuses more secure. Only people in each other’s contact books will be able to see statuses.

The privacy changes extend to Instagram as well — Facebook executives say the company is starting to test new features that hide “likes” from photos. Users will still be able to see how many likes their photos get, but the number won’t appear at the bottom of each post.

Facebook also announced expansions to its hardware devices, including bringing WhatsApp to its video screen hub Portal and expanding sales of the device to Canada and Europe.

Revamped virtual reality

In other news, Facebook will launch its latest attempt to widen the appeal of artificial worlds on May 21 with this release of its Oculus Quest headset.

The company unveiled its plans for the Oculus Quest last fall without disclosing when the $399 headset would be available. Facebook has been trying to get more people hooked on virtual reality since it bought Oculus for $2 billion five years ago. It’s had little success so far.

The Quest’s release will be accompanied by a new twist on the original Oculus Rift headset. The new version, called Rift S, also will cost $399. It won’t require being tethered to a high-priced personal computer, as the original Oculus Rift did.

Facebook also disclosed plans to start selling its video calling device, Portal, in Canada and Europe later this year. The device debuted in the U.S. during last year’s holiday season. The company is also adding its WhatsApp service to Portal for users who want to use encrypted messaging to shield their conversations from prying eyes.

Read a full recap of the conference online.