tech2 News StaffMay 10, 2019 16:22:12 IST
While there has been lots of talk about regulating Facebook and the tech industry as a whole, there’s so far been no real action.
Facebook’s co-founder, Chris Hughes has now published an opinion piece in The New York Times, making the case for why Facebook needs to be broken up. In the piece, which is close to 6,000-words long, Hughes urged the US Federal Trade Commission and the justice department to “undo” Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp and to ban future mergers “for several years”.
Hughes also believes that a new government agency needs to handle the growing tech regulation issues, with privacy as a priority.
Mark Zuckerberg's influence is 'staggering'
Mark Zuckerberg is "a good, kind person," Hughes writes. "But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks."
Hughes, who is now co-chairman of the Economic Security Project and a senior adviser at a liberal think tank called the Roosevelt Institute, has not worked at Facebook since he left the company in 2007.
Why is Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes saying it’s time to break up the company? He explains in this video op-ed. pic.twitter.com/mrAuP3QXzE
— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) May 9, 2019
“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” Hughes says.
He also pointed out that because Zuckerberg controls most of the company's voting shares (60 percent, if you're wondering), Facebook’s board “works more like an advisory committee,” and he alone can decide how to configure the algorithms of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, determining who sees what.
"It’s a power that could be used to make or break rival companies or political candidates," he adds.
— Ben Walsh (@BenDWalsh) May 9, 2019
Disappointment in not foreseeing Zuckerberg's quest for 'domination'
Hughes also notes disappointment in himself, Zuckerberg, and the other early Facebook team for not realising how the News Feed algorithm would radically change the world, and how much power there would be in it.
Hughes says that Zuckerberg’s quest for “domination” back when MySpace was the leader in the space has brought us to a point where it’s impossible for any company to compete.
The company’s dominance in the social media space leaves Facebook’s billions of users with no other alternatives to switch to. Hughes also says that without the threat of competition, Facebook faces little to no accountability for password leaks or data privacy scandals like with Cambridge Analytica.
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a number of Facebook users deleted the app from their phones, at least temporarily. But they often migrated to Instagram or WhatsApp, not realising that both companies were also owned by Facebook.
"Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can"
Mark Zuckerberg himself has called for government regulation to help reign in tech giants, Facebook included. However, Hughes says that this is not enough.
“Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can,” he argued.
“The FTC’s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp,” he continued, urging that this needs to happen before Zuckerberg goes ahead with his plan to merge the three platforms.
He also blasted the FTC’s settlement with Facebook stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook is expected to agree to privacy oversight measures as well as pay a monetary fine of up to $5 billion.
Hughes argued that Zuckerberg prefers these "slaps on the wrist" because it distracts people and keeps a feared antitrust case at bay.
In addition to breaking up Facebook, Hughes would like to see a new set of regulations for tech companies. He called for a law put into motion, made along the lines of Europe’s GDPR that would give Facebook users in the US control over their data across all platforms.
The Facebook co-founder also stated the need for a new federal agency that would provide oversight, protect users’ privacy, and create social media guidelines for speech.
In the context of the US, Hughes believes that a strong response to Facebook here would send a message to other tech giants as well as reverse a decline in antitrust enforcement in the US.
“If we don’t have public servants shaping these policies, corporations will,” Hughes warned.
Facebook's success is why it shouldn't be broken up
Facebook’s VP of global affairs and communications, Nick Clegg was quick to respond to Hughes' op-ed.
“Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability. But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the break-up of a successful American company.
Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet,” he said. “That is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg has called for.”
Chris Hughes is right. Today’s big tech companies have too much power—over our economy, our society, & our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private info for profit, hurt small businesses & stifled innovation. It's time to #BreakUpBigTech. https://t.co/rZMftEwlkN
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 9, 2019
Democratic senators in the US including Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal have also called for the break-up of Facebook, as the social network tries to see off a number of legal and regulatory issues related to data privacy woes.
"Mark Zuckerberg dominates a company that in turn dominates a market, and he should be held accountable," Senator Blumenthal said Facebook needs to be broken up earlier today. https://t.co/osgS6c3jrp pic.twitter.com/mPO7ufav2O
— CNBC (@CNBC) May 9, 2019