Facebook has been the focus of both public and government attention both in the United States and abroad, in the wake of the Russian fake news scandal and the revelation of how little control Facebook users had over their own privacy. Make no mistake, Facebook does not create a product or service to the general public, yet has said repeatedly to those same customers that it will always be a free website.
The negative attention has cost Facebook some of its customers, with people preferring to keep as much as their privacy as possible. Though the recent announcement of Google shutting down its Gmail+ attempt at a social media network does not appear to have any connection with the issues of Facebook, there is a growing discontent of why nobody knows what actually is going on behind the servers of Facebook.
What the company deals in is personal data, and it sells it to the highest bidder – sort of. The problem for governments and regulators is how to rein in the business from what the U.K. calls being a “digital bully.” Though Facebook has increased the levels of privacy a user can choose when using the app, it appears not too many people are that terribly concerned with the public dissemination of their data.
But unlike monopolies of a more traditional natures such as landline telephone service, if Facebook is considered to be a monopoly how should it be regulated? Here are a few potential problems.
First, the use of Facebook is voluntary, as are the user’s choices of privacy settings. It is unfair to regulate Facebook to the point that it indirectly regulates its users be determining what level of privacy Facebook should be required to offer. If I want to tell the world about the size of my underwear, that is between me and Facebook – not the government.
Second, there is the problem of data security. If a user authorizes Facebook to make its data available to anyone, how exactly can a data breach be defined beyond the user’s personal profile data? It’s like trying to claim that allowing the geophysical location of your address to be made public is a violation of the law. Most people couldn’t begin to guess what their own is, and yet the same people are voluntarily giving up that information to third parties. If that type of data is breached, is there really a breach at all? It would seem that Facebook would stand to lose far more than its users in such a case.
Third, let’s assume that Facebook is found guilty of being an international monopoly and must be broken up. How exactly is this supposed to be accomplished? Based on the recent number of Facebook users who remained loyal to the brand, how many users would be willing to accept a potentially lesser quality of service for a service they pay absolutely zero dollars for? Again, this is not your typical monopoly scenario.
Britain’s legislators have declared that Facebook and other digital bullies must not be allowed to continue growing exponentially without some type of legal restriction. Even if you agree with this statement, and it does make a lot of sense, there are two major problems that make creating regulations very difficult if not impossible. Facebook, Google, and the like likely already know this.
One is that the companies have already become so large, so profitable, and so complex that it will take years to figure out what type of regulation would actually have a meaningful impact. The more than 200 billion Facebook users are not likely to turn off their connections with their families and distant relatives because a government decides to believe it poses an economic danger.
Another is that most legislators simply do not have the business or technology background to understand how the technology works. Most elected officials have no basic knowledge of technology except in a limited use. They range from bartenders to lawyers in terms of education, but very few have a degree in a technology-related field. This greatly increases the likelihood any legislation created would have gaping loopholes that would render the legislation useless.
There may be no immediate way to regulate Facebook or any of the behemoth digital bullies in the immediate future. Any attempt at regulation must begin with legislators becoming intimately acquainted with what they are up against. Until then, the data control companies will continue to have control of every growing amounts of data.