Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rein in Facebook Not Even Snowden Set Loose So Much Data

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rein in Facebook Not Even Snowden Set Loose So Much Data

Article excerpt

In retrospect, the Edward Snowden data dump looks almost quaint. In 2013, the National Security Agency was accused of monitoring the metadata of Americans - telephone logs, for example - in search of patterns that would help identify terrorists. And - just imagine! - that was a major scandal.

Even at the time, I thought it odd that we were so worried about the NSA - which is bound by ethics and privacy rules and, at least in principle, is answerable to Congress - whereas we weren't at all concerned about Facebook, which had far more of our data, was bound by no rules and was answerable to no one. But now we are.

Thanks mostly to the work of a single reporter, Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer, we have learned that Facebook not only had our data but also was giving it to people who knowingly sought to manipulate it for political purposes. As a result, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally agreed to testify before Congress.

But his appearance in Washington yesterday was voluntary, a one-off reaction to a scandal. It should be the start of the conversation, not the end. Facebook, like every company that collects and stores personal data, must be made permanently accountable to American political and regulatory institutions.

Regulation doesn't need to be draconian or constitute "censorship" - and it isn't impossible to keep up with Facebook activities. After all, we regulate capital markets, an industry that involves billions of dollars moving at great speed around the world, transferred between people who are constantly inventing new ways to cheat. Compared with that, social media is a soft target.

Nor would it be unwelcome. Perhaps because it feels much less sentimental about Silicon Valley, the European Union has been way ahead of the United States in debating and now implementing regulation. Next month, the EU general data protection regulation will go into effect, a set of rules that require transparency for all online companies around the use of data, greater control for individuals over their data and penalties for abuse. …

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