Could Zuckerberg’s Business Model to Kill Competition Finally Face Anti-trust Backlash?

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

CNN’s Jon Sarlin explores the different ways that the social media giant has kept competitors at bay — and why that could now spell trouble.

In 2011, FB had to sign a consent decree with the FTC, but have they since broken that agreement? Signs continue pointing to yes, especially considering what is known, to date, about their involvement with the on-going Cambridge Analytica scandals.

Gizmodo – March 30, 2019.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg—whose company has blundered its way into controversies over everything from user privacy and data breaches to amplification of extremist content and literal genocide as of late—responded to growing criticism of the tech sector by calling for more outside regulation in an op-ed in the Washington Post (and on his own personal Facebook page) on Saturday.

Zuckerberg broke down the areas where he is now saying regulation could be helpful into four sections: harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability. Somewhat more surprisingly, he offered specifics of what that might look like.

These are all things that are probably true, but also dodge the question of why Facebook is vulnerable to political machinations in the first place, as well as whether the whole Facebook information economy is in fact the problem. Notably, at least in the U.S., these kinds of changes would entail a massive overhaul of campaign finance and disclosure laws that is unlikely to emerge for years, if it does anytime in the visible future.

There’s also the fact that the company has historically tried its best to be exempt from ad disclosure rules, and has generally been muddled in ethical issues around ads, like how the Department of Housing and Urban Development just slapped it with charges of enabling housing discrimination

As to privacy, Zuckerberg called for the U.S. to pass legislation similar to the European Union’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation, which he said he would prefer to become a “common global framework” (as opposed to a patchwork of laws in each nation). He also called for data portability, which he described as free flow of information between services—though he alluded to Facebook Login as an example, which is really more a way the company has extended its tracking tendrils across the web than anything about safeguarding user rights

(As TechCrunch noted, Facebook itself has been dragging its feet on data portability, only allowing users to export friends lists in a way that makes it difficult to find them on other social networks.)

Still, this is a big switch from a year ago, when Zuckerberg was publicly on the fence about whether regulation was necessary at all, described the GDPR as good in principle but only for Europe, and was suggesting self-regulation was the better approach. What seems to have changed in the meantime is that the external political pressure on Facebook has continued to mount: It and other tech companies have faced an increasingly hostile reception from the public and elected officials, including threats of regulation and talk of antitrust action. One example: The Australian government is threatening to pass laws in the wake of the Facebook-livestreamed Christchurch massacre that would land platform execs in jail and impose significant fines if they didn’t act quickly to remove terroristic content.

In other words, Zuckerberg et al. perhaps now believe that the GDPR-like regulations, as well as others on topics like content moderation, are inevitable and it’s best for Facebook to get ahead of the bandwagon.

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