The FTC recently announced a record fine to Facebook, and the press has been critical that it doesn’t require much action from Facebook in reforming its business practices. Another is that the fine was too small This is an example from Bloomberg.
I think the FTC did as well as it could in keeping with its jurisdiction and giving the largest fine it could without Facebook contesting.
I would like to see the FTC or some other agency take Facebook more to task about their privacy policies, and I sense we will get to see this in the coming months and years.
To remind everyone, what was at stake was not that Facebook shouldn’t have shared vast amounts of friends data with Cambridge Analytica, but that the way in which they did so was deceptive. Sharing the data is in no way against the law, as far as I know. If it should be, that’s something that has to be decided by congress.
In the all the chatter about big tech and competitiveness and big tech and privacy, it’s hard to keep track about what we are trying to accomplish and what the priority of each is.
My priorities in order would be:
- Better transparency about what data consumers are sharing with each company, and how that data might be shared with other companies
- Rules restricting how consumer data is shared and with whom
- Greater scrutiny of tech acquisitions in the same categories. Eg. should Facebook be allowed to acquire the next Instagram or Whatsapp?
- Some amount of transparency about the algorithms that select our feeds and news stories. This would shed some light on ‘filter bubbles’ as well as to what extent, for example, Google favors its own products in search results. I realize that this is extremely hard to do well, and I would rather it wasn’t done at all if it can’t be done properly. BUT this is a wish list so might as well put it on there.
Without (4) I’m not sure if a lot of the other anti-trust stuff for the big tech companies makes a whole lot of sense.
What really bothers me is that when I allow any app to use some data from my phone, my data could end up anywhere. It could be used to show me ads, or it could be used by Russian hackers to target my Amex account, for all I know. There is a huge market in consumer data that is largely unregulated.
The catch is, if we restrict data sharing, the tech giants get even more competitive power, because they have the most data.
It is a matter of what we prioritize higher. For me, I’d rather have data protections than perfect competition for now. When everyone’s data is safe, we can talk about adding more tech companies to the picture by promoting competition, through anti-trust or otherwise.