It is time to regulate technology platforms with laws, not fines

It might not have been the best two weeks to go on holiday afterwards.

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Every time I signed up for the news, there was a surprising new clash between Facebook and democracy.

There was that $ 5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

There was that $ 100 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

There was an announcement that the FTC would open an antitrust investigation against the company. (Co-founder of Facebook Chris Hughes offered his help to set up the business.)

There was an announcement that the Justice Department would open an antitrust probe against Facebook, Google and other major technical platforms.

And that was only what happened last Wednesday!

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(OK, the DOJ thing broke out late the day before.)

In some respects, last week's news represented a high point of threads that have not been flushed in the last two years: a dawn awareness of the size and power of internet platforms. A statement about their excesses and unintended consequences. And late but meaningful government measures.

The question that ricochet from the various settlements and probes was of course how meaningful that action actually was. The entity that invested the most in the idea that the settlement made sense was of course Facebook, making it aggressively promoted. The company spoke about the "major changes in the way it builds and operates as a company," and about the "fundamental change in the way we approach our work."

These changes and shifts were illustrated on an accompanying image, citing efforts to "integrate privacy into every product" and generate several quarterly reports to be signed by the CEO. An independent privacy supervisory board will be frowned upon in the future initiatives of Facebook concerning the creative acquisition of user data. The company distributed video clips from Mark Zuckerberg in which these changes – fairly serious – were discussed with employees.

Facebook & # 39; s enthusiasm for the deal was frankly suspicious. But it was understandable as soon as you learned it, thanks to Tony Romm of the Washington Post, that the company had essentially dictated the conditions of the settlers.

Facebook had a different understanding of its own mistakes: the tech giant believed internally that it should pay hundreds of millions of dollars at most, and the company felt it could easily win in court if it had to fight the FTC over how it calculates fines and what qualifies as a violation. In the end, Facebook still offered to pay more than it thought was necessary in an effort to appease regulators and win other FBI concessions.

The concessions were numerous and some observers – including the two Democratic FTC commissioners who voted against the scheme – found them outrageous. Facebook did not admit guilt; it agreed not to change the way it collects user data; and it got the FTC to promise that the agency would not hold the company or its executives responsible for undiscovered violations of its previous consent decision.

As Rebecca Slaughter indicated her different opinion, which is very worth reading, a problem with excluding Facebook executives from all other liability is that executives' actions were never fully investigated during this period. And now there is a $ 5 billion speed fine to ensure that this will never happen.

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Congressmen quickly criticized the settlement – just as they have been since details first came to the fore. But as Makena Kelly has noted, Congress has a powerful regulatory authority in this area:

In the long run, the only way for the FTC to punish technology companies quickly and effectively for harming consumers is if Congress would act and authorize the agency with increased authority in a new privacy law. The FTC already has a comparable power that is provided through the Children & # 39; s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to companies that are fined for abusing the privacy of children under the age of 13, but it is largely not applicable on technical companies and there is no equivalent protection for adults. (…)

Chairman Simons has been advocating a new law for months. But the negotiations have stalled in the past few weeks and it seems that Facebook could get out relatively easily, thus damaging the user's privacy quickly enough to skate past without stricter penalties imposed by Congress.

Matt Levine makes a great related point why we got a settlement decision here instead of legislation:

I actually think that there is a deeper and stranger explanation here. Facebook has done a number of things that upset many people, some of which (certain types of data exchange) are likely to violate laws or previous consent decisions, and others (some types of data collection) not. We want to prevent it from doing all those things again, and the simplest way to do that is to pass a law that says which things you can't do. But Americans are biased to regard bad things as already illegal, always illegal, by definition and naturally and in themselves illegal. If the thing that Facebook did was so bad, then it must have been illegal, so no new law is needed against it. At the most, we need a settlement with Facebook to make it clear what things it has done illegally and to indicate that it won't do them again. People are angry with Facebook, and that anger takes punishment rather than legislative forms; we want to regulate Facebook's future behavior as a punishment for its previous behavior, not as part of a general law. It is hard to imagine that a company could have done something bad without breaking the law, making it difficult to write new laws to prevent bad things in the future.

In the midst of all this, Facebook reported it quarterly income, which were sterling as usual. The stock price rose despite news that the FTC had launched a new investigation into the company regarding antitrust, presumably because recent history suggests investors that such investigations are essentially toothless. The DOJ investigation can add firepower to the cause – but, like Matt Stoller argues convincingly here, it seems much more likely that the DOJ investigation will punish the political enemies of the president (& # 39; biased & # 39; Amazon run by Google and Jeff Bezos) instead of requiring Facebook to (say) Facebook and Instagram off to spin.

All this suggests that a fundamental question of this newsletter – How is our government going to regulate technology platforms, and what are the consequences of those regulations? – can cruise to a deeply cynical conclusion. What if the United States ultimately did all the regulation of large platforms, not in law, but in fines? What if, after years of research, we only had to show theater – a tedious progression of the movements?

Democracy

Big Tech & # 39; s liability shield again under fire from republicans

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Here is a new republican bill that wants to eliminate all moderation of content on the web that goes beyond what is legal under the First Amendment. Makena Kelly reports:

The populist wing of the Republican party introduced another bill to remove the biggest liability shield from the technical industry last week.

The Stop the censorship lawsponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), speaks language in Article 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows platforms to moderate content that they consider "offensive". Gosar argues that this language makes it easy for platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to remove content based on conservative ideology, a republican censorship theory that has not been proven beyond individual comments from Big Tech "whistleblowers" as we have seen from organizations like Project Veritas.

Sites could be liable for helping Facebook to follow your web browser in secret, the EU court says

Adi Robertson reports on a statement that could reduce the number of "Like" buttons on the web:

According to the highest court in the European Union, website owners can run a legal risk with the ubiquitous "Like" buttons from Facebook. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled today that site owners can be held liable for sending data to Facebook without users' consent – which seems to be exactly what happens when users visit a site with a Like button, whether or not they click it.

The ruling does not prevent Facebook or other companies with similar widgets from offering these options. But sites must get permission from users before they send data to Facebook unless they can demonstrate a "legitimate interest" to do something else. Currently, data is apparently being sent to Facebook while the page is loading – before users have the chance to log out. It is therefore possible that sites will have to approach Like buttons differently in the future.

The Unsexy election security threat

Brian Krebs brings a controversial vulnerability in our election system: social media accounts of provincial officials:

California has a civil grand jury system designed to serve as an independent oversight of the functions of local government, and each district forces jury members to perform this service annually. On Wednesday, a grand jury from San Mateo County in Northern California has released a report proposing the havoc that could be caused by the election process if malicious hackers were able to hijack social media and / or email accounts and spread false voting instructions or fake election results.

"Imagine a hacker cutting down one of the province's official social media accounts and using it to report false results during election night and local news broadcasts then distributing those fraudulent election results to the public," the report reads.

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How the West has wronged China's social credit system

Here is a bizarre article that maps the emergence of various interconnected surveillance systems in China and then complaints that Western journalists are overdoing the potential damage they cause. If there is a benevolent use for one of these systems, which emerge at a time when China encounters dissidents even more than usual, the authors never say.

Elsewhere

China & # 39; s ByteDance says, after Smartisan deal, the development of a smartphone

The TikTok phone is coming, reports Josh Horwitz. Should be good for anyone who wants a direct line to the Chinese government!

The Chinese social media company ByteDance Ltd said Monday that it is developing a smartphone, following a deal it has concluded with device manufacturer Smartisan Technology.

The plans come when the technology company expands to new sectors outside of video and news apps.

YouTube said it became serious about hate speech. Why is it still full of extremists?

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Aaron Sankin reports that YouTube & # 39; s maintaining a new anti-hate speech policy lags far behind its public comments on the subject.

Although less than scientific (and suffering from a clear selection bias), this channel list provided a blurry window to see what YouTube & # 39; s promises to combat hate looked like in practice. And since June 5, only 31 channels from our list of more than 200 have ended due to hate speech. (Eight others were banned before this date or went offline for unspecified reasons.)

Before we published this story, we shared our list with Google, who told us that nearly 60 percent of the channels on the channel had deleted at least one video, with a total of more than 3000 individual videos. The company also stressed that enforcement was still accelerating. However, these figures suggest that YouTube is aware of many of the hate-saw problems with regard to the remaining 187 channels – and has enabled them to stay active.

Young Instagram users provide privacy when searching for statistics

Sarah Frier reports that "millions of young people are turning their personal Instagram accounts into" business "profiles to find out more about how their posts are performing."

To be classified as a company on the Facebook Inc. Instagram, users agree to provide their phone number or email to the public in the app. Their choice – made much easier by the design and directions of Instagram – can jeopardize their privacy and that of their friends, according to David Stier, an independent data scientist who reported the problem to the company and conducted a comprehensive analysis at 200,000 accounts around the world. with different sampling techniques.

"I'll talk to parents and say," Did you know that if you turn 13-year-olds from their Instagram account into a business account, more than 1 billion people have access to their contact information? "Taurus said." Every parent I talk to is like, "Are you kidding?"

Facebook encourages gays to give blood, which can be a painful reminder that they don't like

Christina Farr and Salvador Rodriguez report that Facebook continues to tell gays to give blood, even if it is forbidden in their country of residence.

The terrible fear of location sharing apps

Boone Ashworth suggests not to constantly follow the whereabouts of your romantic partner, otherwise it will fill you with eternal fear:

Location sharing can best be used sparingly. Leaving it behind forever invites endless fear and obsession. Within a year of using the service, I got used to trusting that little tap in Google Maps to tell me that everything was fine. But as soon as it gets dark, my sense of security and control is lost as much as the person I can no longer follow. (God forbid me from ever becoming a parent.)

Schüll had a similar experience when she and her husband shared their locations via Find My Friends. "I developed a kind of habit of always checking and it distracted," she says. Schüll only stopped because the service was turned off when they switched phone platforms. "I suddenly no longer had the option and I felt so happy and relieved."

playlist

(This new feature will highlight more podcasts, books, episodes of TV shows and movies that may be of interest Interface readers. Thanks to Hunter Walk for the suggestion!)

Facebook Love Scams: who is really behind that friend request?

In a long story and an episode of the Times"New Hulu show, Jack Nicas is investigating how overseas scammers act as US military women raise their savings. (Related: this Tenable report about how Instagram dating spam evolves.)

Mrs. Holland and Mr. Anonsen represent two sides of a fraud that has flourished on Facebook and Instagram, where scammers act as true American service members to cheat vulnerable and lonely women with their money. The deception has entangled the US military, deceived thousands of victims, and lubricated the reputation of soldiers, pilots, sailors, and marines. It has also sometimes led to tragedy.

The schedule stands out because of his daring. While Fraud is spread on Facebook for years, those who carry out the military romance scam have not only taken on one of the most influential companies in the world, but also the most powerful military – and succeed. Many scammers work from their phones in Nigeria and other African countries and work multiple victims at the same time. In interviews in Nigeria, six men told the New York Times that the hoaxes of love were lucrative and low risk.

launches

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Facebook & # 39; s former security chief describes his & # 39; observatory & # 39; for internet abuse

Andy Greenberg profiles Alex Stamos' new project at Stanford:

When it comes to approach internet abuse ranging from extremism to disinformation to child exploitation, says Stamos, companies in Silicon Valley and academics are still trying to build their own telescopes. What if they would share their tools instead – and more importantly, the huge data sets that they have collected?

That is the idea behind the Stanford Internet Observatory, part of the Stanford Cyber ​​Policy Center, where Stamos is a visiting professor. Founded with a $ 5 million donation from Craigslist maker Craig Newmark, the Internet Observatory aims to be a central outlet for the study of various forms of Internet abuse by providing the necessary tools for machine learning, big data analysts and visiting researchers Perhaps the most important thing to gather is access to user data from large technology platforms – a key to the project that can depend on which technology companies work together and to what extent.

takes

The stubborn, nonsensical myth that internet platforms must be "neutral"

Daphne Keller, a former Google lawyer, takes apart conservatives' favorite argument about Facebook, Google and Twitter:

However, it does not require solving our problems by asking platforms to address them by doing everything the law allows. After all, platform users and policy makers of all political lines often call for platforms to remove more content – including speech that is legal under the first amendment. That category may include holocaust denial, bullying, anti-vaccine material, and encouragement of suicide by teenagers.

American law allows people to post the gruesome video of the massacre on March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand and the filmed video of Nancy Pelosi. There may be ethical or policy reasons to encourage platforms to ban such content, but there are no legal reasons. If we want platforms to enforce value-based speech bans in such cases, they must choose and apply a number of values. By definition, those values ​​are not neutral.

For Tech we are the gift that keeps on giving. But we are becoming prime!

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Kara Swisher states that we have recently given large technology companies more than we get from them:

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I go one step further by saying that the way the technical giants have responded to consumer demands has put us all in a state of constant partial satisfaction. After all, who doesn't like free e-mail and cards and cute photo posts and immediate information satisfaction and getting your heart's desire in a flash?

But the fact is that we have all become cheap dates for these technical platforms, making a trade-off that gives them real value and we get some free stuff that is cheap and easy for them to offer.

FaceApp is the future

I missed the controversy surrounding FaceApp and the viral face filters for the elderly, and John Herrman carefully records it here:

The discussion about the dangers of an app such as FaceApp revolved around competitive future violations: user images are sold as stock photos or used in an advertisement; a huge data set is sold to a company with different ambitions; a hack. But the real offense is there in the concept and in the name.

To do the harmless thing it advertises for, FaceApp must collect personal data so that its frequent surrender and seizure could soon result in the end of anonymous free movement on Earth. This is what the app economy, often a synonym for the new economy, demands. You can make the most innocent assumptions about FaceApp and its creators and still come to the conclusion that it shouldn't exist, and yet it's the perfect smartphone toy here, with nearly a million reviews in the App Store and a rating of 4, 7/5 stars.

And finally …

Lil Nas X became the CEO of Twitter for a day and did not prohibit the Nazis

Artist "Old Town Road" Lil Nas X is legitimately amazing on Twitter, and so naturally Twitter decided to (checks notes) Eh, make him the CEO on Monday? Biijan Stephen reports:

Twitter too has placed a video on his music account, Twitter Music, starring the young rapper and meme impresario, in which he grabs the logo of Jack Dorsey and becomes CEO of the day. His first act? @Jack firing. His second? Require an edit button and then fire a room full of engineers if they didn't start typing fast enough.

The two-minute clip was fun and funny; Frankly speaking, seeing someone asking Twitter for something that users have been demanding for years, and the company that stubbornly refuses to deliver, was of a cathartic nature. I liked it! Until I remembered that Twitter doesn't really listen to its users when it comes to something more serious than an edit button.

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In any case, nice that Twitter had a full-time CEO, if only for a day.

Talk to me

Send me tips, comments, questions and suggestions to get back to work after a nice vacation: casey@theverge.com.

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