Facebook emails show EU must toughen regulation on social media 'monopoly,' lawmaker says
- Emails showed senior executives at Facebook discussing the prospect of charging developers for access to user data and shutting off Vine’s access to the data.
- Lawmaker Claude Moraes said the EU should revamp its competition rules to probe the “possible monopoly” of social media giants.
- Pressure has mounted on the tech giant over the way it handles people’s data and how it tackles foreign interference in elections.
A European lawmaker has called for updated regulation on Facebook and other social networks after a trove of revelatory emails was released by the British Parliament.
Internal documents made public Wednesday by Britain’s digital, culture, media and sport committee showed senior executives at Facebook — including CEO Mark Zuckerberg — discussing the prospect of charging developers for access to user data and shutting off competitor Vine’s access to the data.
Claude Moraes, a member of the European Parliament representing the U.K.’s Labour party, said in response to the news that the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, should revamp its competition rules to probe the “possible monopoly” of social media giants and to “audit the advertising industry on social media.”
“In the European Parliament, we have repeatedly raised concerns about the manipulation of online data and have made clear that competition law is crucial to make sure that the dominant players are accountable and that democracy is protected from excessive market power,” Moraes told CNBC in an emailed statement Thursday.
He added: “Facebook is now on notice that we cannot continue to undermine the trust citizens place, not only in our online platforms, but our democracy itself. Action must be taken to protect our elections and citizens’ right to private life, and if Facebook doesn’t like it then they should know that we don’t like interference and disruption of our elections either.”
Pressure has mounted on the tech giant over the way it handles people’s data and how it tackles foreign interference in elections. Scandals surrounding the sharing of 87 million Facebook profiles with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s dealings with public relations firm Definers have tainted the company’s image of late.
Moraes was one of the various EU parliamentarians who grilled Facebook boss Zuckerberg over the platform’s handling of user data and market share. The idea that Facebook is a “monopoly” that should potentially be broken up was raised at the May hearing.
In one of the emails released by Parliament, Zuckerberg is seen giving an executive the go-ahead to disable now-defunct video sharing app Vine’s access to its API, or application program interface, that would let users find their Facebook friends through Vine.
Rus Yusupov, Vine’s co-founder, made his feelings clear following the release of the internal Facebook documents.
“Competition sucks, right?” he said on Twitter. “No. It allows for products to improve, become available to more people, at lower costs. Strive to build new things that people want and influence other creators for the cycle to continue.”
The emails published by British Parliament had been under seal in a California court as they were obtained by Ted Kramer, founder of Six4Three, an app maker suing Facebook, as part of the legal discovery process. Six4Three, which shut down its app in 2015 after Facebook changed its policies around the sharing of users’ data, alleges the social network drove developers away through anti-competitive measures.
Facebook disputes Six4Three’s claims, and said the documents it obtained “are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context.”
“We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends’ data with developers,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC in an emailed statement.
“Like any business, we had many of internal conversations about the various ways we could build a sustainable business model for our platform. But the facts are clear: we’ve never sold people’s data.”
Facebook also responded to some of the emails in a blog post, saying that, while it “explored multiple ways to build a sustainable business with developers,” it decided against charging developers for API access. The firm also said its decision to target competitors line Vine was to “restrict apps built on top of our platform that replicated our core functionality,” but added it will now “remove this out-of-date policy.”
Zuckerberg also posted an update on his Facebook profile, saying that, while it considered things like making developers pay for access to user data, it ultimately didn’t, and “never sold anyone’s data.”
As for regulation, Facebook’s chief said at a U.S. congressional hearing earlier this year that he was open to regulation so long as it’s the “right regulation.”
Christian Wigand, spokesman for rule of law, the charter of fundamental rights, justice, consumers and gender equality, employment and social affairs at the European Commission, said it was down to individual member states’ data privacy watchdogs to enforce regulatory action.
“The EU has strong data protection rules in place and we expect all companies to comply with them,” he told CNBC in an emailed statement Thursday. “The enforcement of data protection rules is in the hands of the data protection authorities.”
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