Senate Investigates Cambridge Analytica While Mulling Social Media Regulations

Cambridge Analytica is back in the news. And that means Facebook and social media, in general, are the subjects of close scrutiny. As much as Mark Zuckerberg would like to be done apologizing for the Cambridge Analytica kerfuffle, it is not going away any time soon. In fact, in their piece called “Should social media be regulated? Support seen at Web Summit for protecting user data,” USA Today reports on the testimony of a former Cambridge Analytica researcher turned whistleblower, Christopher Wylie.

“‘Facebook, it has so much power at its disposal, it is making a digital clone of our society,’ he said to British newscaster Krishnan Guru Murthy in a panel last Tuesday afternoon. He compared Facebook’s conquest of social media to European colonizers’ conduct across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, calling it ‘our generation’s East India Company.'”

Wylie demanded social media be regulated, comparing it to nuclear power. He demanded to know “What happens to our democracy when these companies can delete people at will when they speak out?”

Senator Chris Coons of AZ asked if suppressing voting or discouraging certain individuals from voting is one of the goals. The answer was affirmative. Coons followed up with an even more penetrating question. “Was voter suppression a service U.S. clients could request in their contracts?” Again, the answer was an unambiguous yes.

The video embedded in the article skips to Wylie explaining why our current notions of informed consent are not enough. It does not matter if a person offers consent for a service that they can’t do without. If your job depends on being on the service, the consent is more like coercion than consent.

Some type of social media regulation appears inevitable. Senator Ron Wyden is proposing a bill that would require fines and even jail time for executives who mishandle user data. It is unlikely this bill will pass as proposed, but we are definitely headed toward the first steps of meaningful social media regulation.

The EU is a leader with regard to online consumer privacy protection. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager was quoted in the article.

“There’s no need to ask people to give up values like privacy, democracy, fairness in the name of innovation,” she said. “The real guarantee of an innovative future comes from keeping markets open.”

There was much talk about GDPR. It was said that the GDPR was “continuing to draw interest on the other side of the Atlantic.”