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Reining in data-crazy technology companies

Facebook has been in the hot water for its data monetization model almost from the very beginning of the business . The Cambridge Analytica, the electoral interference and the false news scandals have raised the temperature.

Facebook's problems are not limited to public and government reactions that affect multiple countries; the company is facing potentially devastating risks
legal threats too. At first glance, this seems to be a clear question: social media and other high tech companies need to be reorganized.

Of course, the EU thinks so, as evidenced by its new general regulation on data protection. However, despite the horrible damage that has been done to date, the contours of the social media issue are not entirely clear, nor is the solution.

When the data is all you have

Among the most worrying concerns resulting from a long series of recent scandals, the fixing of elections, or at least the interference in elections, is the main concern in several democracies. Very few citizens of these countries would consider it a good thing that a foreign power uses social media to influence elections.

Several countries, including the United States, France, and Germany, determined that
The electoral interference supported by Russia is a permanent threat, and social media are at the heart of his favorite tactics.

One might think that the need to curb or halt attempts to manipulate unduly the election results of a nation-state or other external entity – such as Cambridge Analytica, based in the UK – would be irrefutable. True, Facebook sees the writing on the wall.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced several measures to address the increased anxiety about his role. Facebook is publicly apologized for the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal and promised that it would inform users they were among the 87 million people whose data was "incorrectly shared" with l & # 39; company.

Facebook has also promised
increase transparency and improve the control of its advertising providers and new policies.

Is this enough?

Promises, profits and patriotism

"Facebook and other technology companies are now proposing to solve the problem only through self-regulation – by setting rules that they themselves promise to follow, rather than to prevent it from happening. be held accountable by a kind of legislative authority that would involve users sort of legal recourse, "said Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, an assistant professor of media communications and studies at
Fordham University.

"The problem with this is that, as we have seen, there is little accountability," she told the E-Commerce Times.

In fact, Facebook has not acted on issues of election interference and false news until there is a public outcry, even though it is was aware of the problems much earlier. The same is true for unlawful sharing of data with third parties such as Cambridge Analytics.

Data monetization is the economic model of Facebook. Facebook and a few other technology companies exist solely to collect and sell everyone's data, exposing the lives of users in more and more detail.

Facebook works hard to pull more intimate details about your life than what you voluntarily post on social media or publish as burnout while searching the web. Among the most disturbing data that the company has recently made: its
Survey of predators of children; and a secret effort to
collect patient data from hospitals and other medical groups to add to what he knows about users.

Indeed, Facebook does not seem to respect any border in its search to possess a treasure more and more important of personal data.

Facebook & # 39; s
"The agreement of use" is 70 pages, "said Ronald Jones, a member of the Faculty of Cyber ​​Security at
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

The Facebook company's confidentiality and use agreement
Masquerade states that he collects, exploits and sells Facebook content, such as images of faces, he also pointed out.

"Facebook's agreements compensate Facebook's actions to sell / deliver / provide user information to Cambridge Analytica, so their actions were legal and no US law appears to have been violated," he said. Jones at the E-Commerce Times. "Are stricter rules needed for social networking and what about the first amendment?" Who also decides what is or is not acceptable for space? Social Networking? "

Freedom of expression means that it can be very difficult to stem the discourse spewed by hostile nation states, or stem the tide of false news that is proliferating over the world. network, he added – and he's not the only one to think so.

"What is harmful content? Harmful in what way? To whom? And why? And what is false news?" asked Richard Santalesa, founder of the
Sm @ rtEdgeLaw Group.

"The news has been skewed, or slanted, since the first pen was put on a clay tablet," he told the E-Commerce Times. "The Constitution and the First Amendment do not contain the right not to be offended, and there is no exemption from hate speech to speech that is otherwise protected by the First Amendment."

Thus, the regulation of technology companies is a difficult and perhaps unforgivable thing to do in the minds of many American patriots. Yet, the traditional American assertion that market forces will control bad behavior is also not true.

What people want

Take, for example, Facebook's efforts to collect patient data. The market had no knowledge until the investigative reporters exposed it. Given that the traditional news media have been beaten as false news, and that the false news has been deemed true by others, how can the market learn from such misdeeds or know if an answer? is necessary?

"What everyone needs to understand is that Facebook does not concern other people than its currency," commented Janice Taylor, CEO of
Mazu.

"You, me, our children are tokens – data points that reinforce the machine for printing money," she told the E-Commerce Times.

"If we leave, Facebook loses all its activity," continued Taylor. "Mark and Sheryl [Sandberg] are they really going to stop the printing machine? They can grease it, disguise it better, lie a little more – but the root of Facebook / Instagram is [the desire] to print money and their shareholders. "

Even though Facebook has seen the light and really wants to self-regulate to an appreciable degree, there is nothing to keep it in time.

"European style rules on data privacy would be a step forward," Baldwin-Philippi of Fordham suggested, but Facebook could still change this policy in the future – as has already been the case at many times. regulating themselves rob users of recourse if and when something is wrong. "

Current laws defining data ownership could solve this problem for users – but that could mean the end of Facebook and other social media companies, since their business model is centered on the ownership of users' personal information.

"In the United States, people do not have their personal information, while in the EU, people have undisputed ownership of personal data," says Jones, of Harrisburg University.

While Americans are likely to be safer with protections in place, just like democracy, many may not want this protection.

"People think that if I'm not on Facebook, I can not build my business," Taylor Mazu noted.

"What about my family memories, my calendar of events?" they could worry.

"As people, we must understand that Facebook has never been about you or me or the connection between people – it was about money and control Taylor said. "Why do we think that they care more about us now than they are caught? Is a drug dealer suddenly preoccupied with all drug users once that?" What if the drug dealer does better cocaine?

Stay tuned for Part 2.


Pam Baker has been a journalist with the ECT News Network since 2007. Her main areas of interest are technology, business and finance. She has written hundreds of articles for prominent publications, including InformationWeek Institutional Investor CIO.com and TechTarget. She is the author of several analytical studies on technology, as well as eight books, the latest of which is Data Divination: Big Data Strategies . She has also written and produced an award-winning documentary on paper making. She is a member of the National Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Internet Press Guild. Pam email.

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