On April 10 and 11, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was faced with back-to-back trials by the Senate and Congress. The recent Facebook scandal was not the first time the American public witnessed the ramifications of giving large amounts of private information to a corporation and, judging by the lack of action by the Senate, it won’t be the last. Zuckerberg’s hearing did nothing to settle any unease over the massive data breach. Because each senator’s questioning was limited to less than five minutes, Zuckerberg was more than able to run down the clock and avoid discussing the actual issue at hand by talking about company mission and philosophy.
It’s unhelpful to think of the Facebook data breach as an isolated event; Mark Zuckerberg’s trial is bigger than him and Facebook. The trials were a sign that because the federal government is unable to regulate Facebook, it will also prove itself incapable of regulating other companies in the tech industry. There were similar data breaches at Uber, Equifax, Sony, and Target, and all the breaches have a couple things in common: they endangered consumer privacy and then, much like the incident with Facebook, nothing severe happened to any of these companies or their policies. After a few weeks of public backlash and some reprimands, people lost interest and things were able to go back to normal without any meaningful change. Previously, Facebook has provided millions of dollars to state and federal lobbying efforts, some of which oppose legislation designed to bolster privacy. If legislators won’t hold major tech corporations accountable for consumer protection, then the public needs to take matters into its own hands.
There’s nothing inherently evil about Facebook or Uber, and no one is expected to give them up any time soon. But in the absence of external pressure, corporations are free to act however they want. Whenever America loses interest in a problem, it opens the door for corporations to focus solely on their own interests, which very rarely line up with private individuals' best interests.
A lot of people would probably tell you that they don’t use Facebook anymore. More often than not, it seems like it’s a place for older people, where our moms share photos of Parents’ Weekend with their friends. But Facebook has bought up plenty of other companies, including Instagram. That’s the business pattern of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FAANG), and it's what makes their influence so hard to escape.
Silicon Valley began as something of a beacon of prosperity for our country. The information age brought with it jobs and the hopes of competing with other countries. Today, FAANG remains a source of pride for America. But, we cannot ignore the fact that Silicon Valley more or less escaped regulation once the government left the new industry to its own devices.
The misuse of Facebook user data signals the need for new privacy laws that are up-to-date with our digital world. Regulations on Facebook would set a precedent for the rest of the tech world. Some public interest groups are recommending a privacy law that will ensure Facebook obtains a user’s permission before the release of that user's private information. Advocates of a privacy law recommend that it be based on the European General Data Protection Regulation, a new law that will go into effect for the European Union this May.
Zuckerberg trial’s proved that the federal government is ill-equipped to manage the booming tech industry. This will likely be looked back upon and used as a model for handling these situations in the future. Zuckerberg has said that he’s open to regulations on Facebook if they are the “right” regulations. It’s up to the American public to see that he follows up on his words and ensure that companies like FAANG aren’t elevated to a place above the law.