Breakingviews - Zuckerberg’s plea for regulation is a siren call

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018.

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Mark Zuckerberg is realizing more regulation has its merits. The founder and chief executive of $480 billion Facebook wants governments to develop standardized rules for the internet. There’s a lot to be said for the idea. But it also smacks of a way for tech firms to keep profits private while socializing responsibility and costs.

Writing in the Washington Post on Saturday, Zuckerberg revealed that he believes the social-media network – and other tech firms – have too much power over data and content, and that regulators should step in to police it more. He even said that on privacy issues he supports, as a global lodestar for the industry, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which gives consumers the right to choose how their information is used.

Facebook and Alphabet’s YouTube have been criticized for allowing users to post unfiltered content. Both platforms rely heavily on artificial intelligence to root out offensive videos with little noticeable effect. In the most recent example, a man used Facebook as a vehicle to broadcast in real time his attacks on two New Zealand mosques that killed 50 people. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg outlined the actions the firm was taking in a New Zealand newspaper the same weekend as Zuckerberg’s op-ed.

Democratic and Republican politicians already have Silicon Valley – particularly Facebook – in their sights. California is preparing to enact legislation next year that will keep tech firms’ use of consumer data in check. If other states pass their own takes on such legislation, it could result in a hodge-podge of rules. Federal laws would reduce the complexity.

It’s also instructive that Zuckerberg is a fan of the GDPR. Since the European Union introduced it last May the growth rate in Facebook’s revenue per user in Europe has slowed. But it remains one of the company’s most profitable regions in the world. Protecting the ability to make money is part of Zuckerberg’s job. That’s why his plea for more oversight is a siren call.


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