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Facebook Could Be Under US Government Supervision for 20 Years

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces the plan to make Facebook more private at Facebook's Developer Conference on April 30, 2019.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces the plan to make Facebook more private at Facebook's Developer Conference on April 30, 2019. (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

“I don’t think we spend nearly enough time focusing on antitrust measures. And the truth of the matter is I think it’s something we should take a really hard look at.”

Social media giant Facebook is reported to be close to an agreement with the U.S. government following privacy policy and data breaches. The agreement would place Facebook under U.S. government oversight for a period of 20 years, as anonymous sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

The agreement is a settlement for an inquiry into whether Facebook violated a similar agreement made in 2011 which also required Facebook to report to the U.S. government on its privacy practices for 20 years. The new inquiry is investigating allegations that the social media giant had shared inappropriate information to the public.

Facebook has reportedly set aside a $3-5 billion in anticipation of paying a fine, suggesting details of the settlement may be announced soon. However, there would be no agreement this week, as the Reuters sources said.

The agreement would also require government oversight of Facebook’s board of directors and force the tech company to be more aggressive in regulating third-party applications.

Reuters reported that not all are happy with the Facebook deal. Politicians Richard Blumenthal (Dem.) and John Hawley (Rep.) in their letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the $5 billion fine is still too small. They added that some of Facebook’s high-ranking officials, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, must be held responsible, as well.

Facebook Under Attack

Facebook has been under scrutiny since allegations of privacy and data breaches arose out of now-defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica’s activities during the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

One of the loudest critics of the Silicon Valley-based firm is Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The former vice president for Barack Obama said that he intended to dismiss Facebook.

“I don’t think we spend nearly enough time focusing on antitrust measures. And the truth of the matter is I think it’s something we should take a really hard look at,” said the veteran politician in an interview with the Associated Press.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has been the most outspoken about breaking up big tech monopolies. But Biden was careful in the interview to not fully align with Warren, saying that it was “too premature to make a final judgment.” However, he also praised Warren for having made a strong case for getting tough on big tech.

Zuckerberg Refuses to Split WhatsApp and Instagram From Facebook

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes published a New York Times op-ed calling for the break up of his former company, saying Zuckerberg’s power was unprecedented and un-American. Hughes also insisted the popular social media company break up Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Hughes said that the FTC’s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to take over WhatsApp and Instagram. Zuckerberg’s former partner added that many people were disappointed with Facebook due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but they did not leave the Facebook ecosystem because even moving to WhatsApp and Instagram was a move to the same system.

“First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years,” Hughes shared in his New York Times opinion piece.

Zuckerberg firmly refused Hughes’ idea to split the three social media channels, saying that his former partner’s suggestion will not help anything.

“When I read what he wrote, my main reaction was that what he’s proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues. So I think that if what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year like we are in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference,” Zuckerberg said in response to Hughes’ piece.

The young CEO added, “Our budget for safety this year is bigger than the whole revenue of our company was when we went public earlier this decade. A lot of that is because we’ve been able to build a successful business that can now support that. You know, we invest more in safety than anyone in social media.”

Facebook’s Problems Are Not Limited to a Privacy Breach

In mid-April, another privacy scandal hit Facebook when Business Insider discovered that the social media giant had amassed the emails of 1.5 million users without their consent when they opened accounts.

Also in April, 4,000 documents leaked to NBC News showed that Zuckerberg shared Facebook user data to Zuckerberg’s personal friends or spent significant advertising money on Facebook.

In addition to the company’s privacy concerns, Facebook is also prone to hate-speech and extremism-related content. A recent study showed that many terrorist groups are active on Facebook, making the company auto-generate terrorism-related posts without realizing it.

The National Whistleblowers Center conducted a five-month study by analyzing pages of 3,000 members who have connections to terrorist-related groups and discovered that ISIS and Al-Qaeda “are openly active” on the social network.

“The auto-generated terror content we identified appears to be assisting individuals who profess sympathy for extremist groups in finding and networking with one another,” the non-profit organization claimed.

What’s Next?

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will join with other world leaders in Paris to tackle online extremism in a meeting this Wednesday.

The summit’s attendees are required to commit to removing violent content from social media channels and other online platforms.

Ardern slammed Facebook for not doing enough to remove videos of the mosque shooting in Christchurch last March. The live footage of the brutal incident gained 4,000 views before being taken down by Facebook.

“This isn’t about freedom of expression; this is about preventing violent extremism and terrorism online. I don’t think anyone would argue that the terrorist had a right to live to stream the murder of 50 people,” Ardern said last month.

Executives from tech companies such as Twitter, Google and Amazon will attend the meeting. Facebook will send a delegate to represent Zuckerberg.

Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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