Congress says the Facebook Monopoly Hurts Citizen Privacy

October 9, 2020

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House of Representatives says that Silicon Valley is naughty.

Remember seeing all of those technology company CEOs sweating in front of Congress in recent years and months? Well, a little news has emerged from that. In a rare display of Congress actually attempting to do their job, the House Judiciary Committee unveiled its conclusions from the technology company hearings on anti-trust law, user privacy, and other related issues on whether Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are violating antitrust law and are doing a public disservice. Its 449-page report criticizes these firms for buying out competitors, promoting and prioritizing their their own services in search and App stores, and holding too much power over smaller businesses that use their platforms. The report is the result of a lengthy investigation into the practices of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple that many label anticompetitive and is the work of the bipartisan House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. Facebook was especially hit for some of their actions when it came to buying up their competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp.

They say that when it comes to protecting users' privacy Facebook is getting worse. The report argues that Facebook's failings are largely due to the lack of competition in the social networking space. Their conclusion is that Facebook is a monopoly. Interestingly, the report finds that Facebook's point that it's not a monopoly because it has many competitors is mostly BS. "Facebook's position that it lacks monopoly power and competes in a dynamic market is not supported by the documents it produced to the Committee during the investigation," reads the House report. "Instead, Facebook's internal business metrics show that Facebook wields monopoly power." The report also says "Facebook's quality has deteriorated over time, resulting in worse privacy protections for its users and a dramatic rise in misinformation on its platform." The claims about misinformation may be true, but may also be politically motivated in a tense election year where both political teams decide that news that they don't like is misinformation.

The report from Congress recommends preventing the companies from operating in adjacent business niches: essentially wanting to break them up. Other recommendations include preemptively blocking future mergers and acquisitions, making it easier for users to move their data from one platform to another, and safe harbor protections for media outlets.Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is also a hot button issue in this election as President Donald Trump put out the idea of abolishing it in recent tweets. Whether any action ultimately comes from this depends on many factors like what happens in the rapidly approaching exciting election and will be interesting to see. The most important takeaway from this should be: you cannot completely rely on the government to safeguard your privacy. Take control of your Facebook privacy defaults and be cautious about what you post online and take every step you can to prevent stalkers and wrongdoers from getting your email, phone number, home address, social security data, and other PII about you. Doing this will pay dividends in your life even if Congress takes no further steps.

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