Facebook and social media should be regulated: Experts

‘We think it’s free, there’s nothing free. You give up your data. We need to be more informed as a consumer,’ expert says
NEW YORK: Facebook and large social media companies should be regulated to prevent illegal private information use, personal data leaks, and to preserve individual privacy, experts told Anadolu Agency on Friday.
The issue of individual privacy on social media became a hot topic in recent weeks after reports that U.K.-based Cambridge Analytica used the private information of 87 million Facebook users without consent for critical political voting in that country and the U.S.
“It’s a good idea to have some regulation. As we have seen, these companies have enormous power,” said Bill Howe, an associate professor in the Information School at the University of Washington.
“People need to understand. Everything you are doing online is tracked. There are digital profiles being made of people’s behaviors and they are being sold to companies and so on,” he added.
Although most social media users around the world were shocked by the reports, Howe said the issue is not only pervasive in the tech industry but has been happening for a very long time.
“This is not entirely about Facebook or Cambridge Analytica. It is an incident that opened the conversation about this fundamental tension between the business model of a lot of these companies and people’s need for manageable privacy,” he said, drawing attention to the “unethical” aspect of the Facebook data leak scandal.
“One thing that was unethical about this is the fact that the app that was developed to ask people permission to use the data was offered under the pretext of supporting academic research. But, it was also going to be sold to these companies,” he explained.
Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University, created a personality quiz application in 2013 on Facebook that was installed by about 300,000 people who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data.
In 2015, Kogan shared the information from the application with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook announced last month this was against its policies for developers to share data without users’ consent.
Facebook said it immediately banned Kogan’s application from their platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data.
Although Cambridge Analytica told Facebook it provided these certifications, the data was used for Brexit and U.S. elections in 2016.
– Call for transparency and responsibility
“No one that understands social media from a practical stand point is surprised what Cambridge Analytica could do,” said Lisa Low, an assistant professor of Public Relations at Texas Tech University.
“The average American is pretty naive in terms of what they expect from a social media platform like Facebook … the average American Facebook user is not considering those things when they are going through their daily lives,” she added.
Low said the recent incident is “a call for more transparency” and urged that internet users be more careful about what they share, how they behave on social media, and above all act more responsibly.
“We think this virtual space we live in is private, and it is most certainly not … Every time you access these apps, you are sharing a little bit of yourself every time. And, you are opening that door, maybe just a crack at first and slowly it swings wide open,” she explained.
“It’s not just something that Facebook is guilty of. Certainly, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter all, to a certain degree, are mining our data every second of every day … We think it’s free, there’s nothing free. You give up your data. We need to be more informed as a consumer,” she argued.
– “Impossible to regulate something you don’t understand”
Low stressed that it would be a big challenge to regulate Facebook, but added that expecting Facebook to regulate itself is “naive.”
Regulation became a hot topic during Zuckerberg’s testimony before the U.S. Senate committees on Tuesday and the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Most viewers became aware of the fact that there was a wide gap of perception between the lawmakers and Facebook co-founder Zuckerberg about how Facebook operates and what social media firms can do.
“I was very impressed by his presence. He was very respectful and patient,” said Roy Cohen, a career coach in New York and author of the book “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.”
“You have to take into account that the individuals he was addressing in large are two generations away from his. They are elderly, senior citizens. The underlying technology is not something that they would necessarily understand. So, he looked them straight in the eye, was very direct in his responses. He was very professional and very mature,” Cohen asserted.
Low said the technical details of social media can be very complicated, and lawmakers need someone who understands the complexities of the industry if they want to regulate it.
“It’s impossible to regulate something that you don’t understand. It’s obvious to those of us in the tech sector that [Zuckerberg] was answering the questions, but they didn’t know what questions to ask,” she said.
She advised that officials may need to reach out to the education or the technology sector for experts in order to form a committee if they choose to implement regulations.
Cohen said a lack of time was an issue in Zuckerberg’s testimony since each lawmaker was given four to five minutes to ask their questions and listen to the CEO’s responses.
“As a technology person, he could have devoted far more time unraveling the mysteries of Facebook, and that would have been difficult for this group to comprehend,” Cohen said.
“The senators would raise a question that would require an in-depth response, so he was able to deflect, very adeptly, attention to the most critical matter about technology, and he offered his team to provide an explanation after the hearings. It was a very skillful technique,” Cohen explained.
– Europe’s GDPR could help regulations in US
Howe explained that during the testimony, Zuckerberg, who was asked what kind of regulations are applicable for social media firms, was put in a position of being a representative for all social media companies in his response.
“He was taking the blame for what everybody is doing all the time,” Howe said, taking into account the fact that the CEO said during his testimony that some sort of regulation in the social media industry is “inevitable.”
“One example we can look at is the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] in Europe. This is a pretty wide-ranging and sweeping regulation about what kind of controls individuals should have over their data, and how they can and can’t be used,” Howe said.
“I do think regulations are going to come, and I do think GDPR is going to heavily influence what we see. The center of gravity of these regulations will be things like ‘nobody is allowed to use my data for anything.’” he added.
GDPR is a European Union (EU) law to preserve individuals’ privacy and protect their data from illegal use.
After its implementation on May 25, EU citizens will be able to take control of their personal data.
However, Howe warned that since the GDPR is comprehensive, it could harm start-ups and small tech firms in the U.S. — a point Zuckerberg also made during the congressional hearing.
“Big and strong heavyweight regulations disproportionately affect smaller companies, rather than larger companies. It is very expensive to be compliant with these laws, like GDPR that is sweeping and comprehensive,” Howe said.
He emphasized that large social media firms, like Facebook, carry a higher risk because they can cause greater damage.
“For a smaller company, there is a limit to how much damage it can do. During the early phases, the risk is low, and the need for innovation is high,” Howe said.
“I hope [regulations in the U.S.] accommodate the fact that smaller companies are less equipped to be fully compliant with these strong laws,” he concluded.–AA

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