FACE­BOOK UN­SCATHED BY LACK­LUS­TER QUES­TIONS

Fol­low­ing the re­cent US Congress hear­ings on Face­book and the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal, it ap­pears that law­mak­ers still strug­gle to ask the right ques­tions as the sta­tus quo re­gard­ing reg­u­la­tions on so­cial me­dia con­tin­ues

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Reader’s Corner - İbrahim Al­tay

Last week we dipped our feet into the mas­sive po­lit­i­cal and pri­vacy scan­dal sur­round­ing Face­book and Cam­bridge an­a­lyt­ica and we will con­tinue in that vein to­day. as the pub­lic dis­course shifts heav­ily in fa­vor of so­cial me­dia sites it is only nat­u­ral that the grow­ing pains along with ma­li­cious ac­tors spoil the process as seen in the lat­est scan­dal. this is not some­thing that can be dis­missed or solved with clear cut mea­sures and it is likely to con­tinue in the years to come.

the big­gest news of the re­cent weeks in this re­gard was the u.s. sen­ate and House hear­ings of Mark Zucker­berg, the founder and CEo of Face­book, that took place on april 10 and 11, re­spec­tively. af­ter watch­ing the ques­tions of the u.s. se­na­tors and con­gress­men along with Zucker­berg’s an­swers, I can safely say that things are not look­ing good.

the main theme of both hear­ings seems to be that u.s. law­mak­ers are quite un­fa­mil­iar with not only Face­book but also the busi­ness mod­els and in­tri­ca­cies of sim­i­lar tech and so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies. It is a lack that is shared by law­mak­ers of many other coun­tries. this de­fi­ciency also seems to be one of the big­gest road­blocks to find­ing a cred­i­ble and vi­able so­lu­tion. If the peo­ple in charge can­not un­der­stand how Face­book or sim­i­lar com­pa­nies work, how can we ex­pect them to im­ple­ment reg­u­la­tions to cover the bases of their con­stituen­cies? the an­swer is that we can­not. there is a gen­er­a­tion gap at work here along with a lack of knowl­edge. Con­sid­er­ing there were ques­tions about how Face­book could sus­tain its busi­ness model with­out user pay­ment, we can safely say that many of the com­mit­tee mem­bers did not do their home­work. a siz­able part of the ques­tions was ei­ther sim­i­lar in na­ture or failed to touch on the core rea­sons be­hind the lat­est scan­dals. sure, there were some sound­bites but many lacked sub­stance.

this also showed when the politi­cians asked Zucker­berg’s help in draft­ing new laws and reg- ula­tions. the Latin phrase “Quis cus­todiet ip­sos cus­todes?” comes to mind. af­ter all, “Who will watch the watch­men” if the reg­u­la­tions rely on Face­book in­put? Es­pe­cially if we con­sider the mas­sive lob­by­ing power Face­book has both with its fi­nan­cial as­sets along with its plat­form as sen. John neely Kennedy put by say­ing, “Here’s what’s go­ing to hap­pen. there are go­ing to be a whole bunch of bills in­tro­duced to reg­u­late Face­book. It’s up to you whether they pass or not. You can go back home, spend $10 mil­lion on lob­by­ists and fight us, or you can go back home and help us solve this prob­lem.”

In other words, Face­book con­tin­ues to hold many of the cards de­spite the re­cent scan­dal.

EURO­PEAN REG­U­LA­TIONS

on the other hand, Zucker­berg seems to be in fa­vor of the Euro­pean union’s Gen­eral data Pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tion (GdPr) that will be im­ple­mented next month. at least on the sur­face. He said on the mat­ter dur­ing the hear­ing:

“I think the GdPr in gen­eral is go­ing to be a very pos­i­tive step for the in­ter­net. It cod­i­fies a lot of the things in there are things we have al­ready done for a long time; some other things that I think would be good steps for us to take. For ex­am­ple, the con­trols that this re­quires are gen­er­ally pri­vacy con­trols that we’ve of­fered for years. Putting the tools in front of peo­ple re­peat­edly, not just hav­ing them in set­tings, but putting them in front of peo­ple and mak­ing sure that peo­ple un­der­stand what the con­trols are and that they get af­fir­ma­tive con­sent. I think that’s a good thing to do that we’ve done pe­ri­od­i­cally in the past. I think it makes sense to do more. and I think it’s some­thing GdPr will re­quire us to do and it will be pos­i­tive.”

When he was asked “and you com­mit to­day that Face­book will ex­tend the same pro­tec­tions to amer­i­cans that Euro­peans will re­ceive un­der the GdPr?” by rep. Jan­ice schakowsky, Zucker­berg an­swered with a “yes” but fur­ther ques­tion­ing and press­ing showed that might not be the case ex­actly. so, it seems that Eu reg­u­la­tions in this mat­ter might make Face­book a bit un­com­fort­able to im­ple­ment fully. also, a photo of Zucker­berg’s notes taken by as­so­ci­ated Press (aP) pho­tog­ra­pher an­drew Harnik showed that it con­tained the sen­tence “GdPr (don’t say we al­ready do what the GdPr re­quires.” We will see the out­come in a month as the GPdr will be im­ple­mented on May 25, 2018. all in all, it might be a pub­lic re­la­tions (Pr) at­tempt that will present the plat­form as ea­ger to sel­f­reg­u­late to stop any u.s. law­mak­ers’ at­tempts of GdPr-like reg­u­la­tions in their tracks.

there was also an un­ex­pected line of ques­tion­ing made dur­ing the hear­ings that was about the bias of the plat­form. one of those was from ted Cruz, the for­mer can­di­date for repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. He said, “there are a great many amer­i­cans who are deeply con­cerned that Face­book and other tech com­pa­nies are en­gaged in a per­va­sive pat­tern of bias and po­lit­i­cal cen­sor­ship.”

Zucker­berg an­swered this with “I un­der­stand where that con­cern is com­ing from be­cause Face­book and the tech in­dus­try are lo­cated in sil­i­con Val­ley, which is an ex­tremely left-lean­ing place. this is ac­tu­ally a con­cern that I have, and that I try to root out at the com­pany — is mak­ing sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do.”

al­though it was un­re­lated to the main is­sue of pri­vacy and failed to men­tion the de­plat­form­ing power of Face­book, it was an in­ter­est­ing point in the hear­ings echoed by sev­eral other law­mak­ers.

IS FACE­BOOK A MO­NOP­OLY

How­ever, there was an­other point made dur­ing these hear­ings that ac­tu­ally struck quite close at one of the main prob­lem­atic as­pects of Face­book. Its mo­nop­oly.

sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham was the first to bring up the sit­u­a­tion dur­ing the hear­ing by ask­ing the sim­ple ques­tion of “Who is your big­gest com­peti­tor?” to Zucker­berg.

His an­swer was un­sat­is­fy­ing as he failed to name a sin­gle com­pany that can com­pete with Face­book when it comes to the ser­vice it pro­vides. In­stead he listed sev­eral tech com­pa­nies claim­ing that they over­lap with them in many ways. He then went on to list sev­eral dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of the ser­vices Face­book and other tech com­pa­nies pro­vide but sen. Gra­ham cut that line of an­swer­ing short by press­ing his line of ques­tion­ing to urge Zucker­berg to list a sin­gle com­peti­tor when it comes to its main ser­vice.

al­though Zucker­berg tried to paint Face­book as a sin­gle app rather than a mo­nop­oly, sen. Gra­ham then pointed out the pur­chases the com­pany made such as In­sta­gram. In the end, de­spite Zucker­berg’s protests, Face­book feels like it pretty much has the mo­nop­oly.

In the hear­ings, the first point of pri­vacy is an in­dus­try wide prob­lem. the ques­tion of mo­nop­oly is a Face­book fo­cused prob­lem. and both of them are sig­nif­i­cant and should be con­sid­ered so if we are make any head­way.

What is more telling that Face­book seems to be un­scathed de­spite the scan­dal. When sen. ron John­son asked “With all this public­ity, have you doc­u­mented any kind of back­lash from Face­book users? I mean, has there been a dra­matic falloff of the num­ber of peo­ple that uti­lize Face­book be­cause of these con­cerns?” Zucker­berg an­swered with “se­na­tor, there has not.”

Face­book’s stocks were also up dur­ing the hear­ings as well. so the share­hold­ers must be con­tent with Zucker­berg’s an­swers.

But whether its lack of de­cline in user num­bers due to lack of pri­vacy con­cerns or lack of com­peti­tors is very much up to de­bate.

In the end the hear­ings were lack­lus­ter de­spite cou­ple of good points as they failed to get con­crete an­swers from Zucker­berg. But hey, at least he con­firmed that Face­book was not lis­ten­ing on your mi­cro­phone to tar­get its ads as a con­so­la­tion prize. all in all though, there is still a long way to go.

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