Alexander's Column

Ignore Zuckerberg — What Congress Should Legislate

Congress has the authority to protect consumer privacy through legislation, and slow down the privacy pirates.

Mark Alexander · Apr. 10, 2018

Facebook’s billionaire CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, an adolescent darling of the Left, is being paraded up Capitol Hill this week, where he will be answering questions about individual data privacy violations in the wake of his data-mining deal with Cambridge Analytica. Notably, objections to the latter came to light only after it was discovered that they provided consultation for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Fact is, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign was far more invasive with Facebook user data, but there were no objections then.

Zuckerberg’s self-serving objectives should not frame congressional legislation objectives.

In his prepared remarks, Zuckerberg notes, “Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. … Just recently, we’ve seen the #MeToo movement and the March for Our Lives, organized, at least in part, on Facebook.”

Attempting to divert from the privacy issues, Zuckerberg hopes Congress will focus on what he claims is the real problem: “fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech…” According to Zuckerberg, “It’s not enough to just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive. It’s not enough to just give people a voice. We have to make sure people aren’t using it to hurt people or spread misinformation.”

In other words, the company is aggressively implementing its Orwellian content-censoring protocols to determine what it deems suitable for you to see or not see in your news feeds — regardless of the pages you have selected to follow. And its censorship protocols defining what is “fake, hateful or hurtful” favor leftist ideology. Consequently, the more than 500,000 followers of The Patriot Post on Facebook are not as likely to see our content in their news feeds.

In other words, yes, Zuckerberg is concerned about the negative press regarding Facebook’s dissemination of data without user consent. Indeed, users have a reasonable expectation that such information would be private. But Facebook’s business model is not about “connecting friends and loved ones,” as Zuckerberg would like you to believe, but about profiling users to market their information to advertisers and a plethora of other third-party customers.

As we have noted repeatedly in our coverage about Facebook privacy issues, Facebook is not the product; Facebook users are the product. And nobody should be shocked that Facebook is collecting all the user data it can to sell that product.

But there are millions of social media users who are clueless about invasive data mining by social media and other companies.

So what should Congress do? Ignore Zuckerberg’s agenda.

Congress has the authority to protect consumer privacy through legislation, and in the case of Facebook and other aggregators of private data (which should be classified as private property), that legislation should include explicit requirements regarding the dissemination of consumer data and profiles. When it comes to invasive privacy violations — the collecting and marketing of individual profiles — a ubiquitous blanket “user agreement” is completely insufficient.

Congress should enact legislation requiring that social media and other aggregators of individual data (Facebook, Google, et al.) be required to obtain specific and explicit user permissions for each and every transfer of such data, prior to the sale or transfer of any individually identifiable profiling data.

The aggregators will argue about what constitutes “private” — that the data they collect is not private. But by any reasonable definition, the individual data in question most certainly is private.

Facebook and other data aggregators are already enormously profitable from ad revenues. The internal use of individual profile data to determine what ads and content a user may be more interested in may be a legitimate use of that data. But exporting that data individually or in aggregate should require explicit permissions — and violations should be enormously costly to social media companies.

I expect the congressional testimony will result in little more than political stage props and do little or nothing to protect the marketing of private user data.

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