“At a minimum,” said Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who is now one of its most vocal critics, regulators should ban second and third party uses of the most intimate data, “such as health, location, browser history and app data.”
Privacy rules are one of the primary ways European regulators have attempted to curb social media’s effects. So why don’t we hear more about it in America?
I suspect it’s because this is a bigger-than-Facebook solution. All the tech giants — even Apple, which has criticized the digital ad business’s hunger for private data — make billions of dollars from ads, and there are lots of other companies that have grown dependent on ad targeting. When California attempted to improve consumer privacy, corporate lobbyists pushed to get the rules watered down. I worry that Congress wouldn’t fare much better.
Force it to release internal data
Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School, has a neat way of describing the most basic problem in policing Facebook: “At present,” Persily has written, “we do not know even what we do not know” about social media’s effect on the world.
Persily proposes piercing the black box before we do anything else. He has written draft legislation that would compel large tech platforms to provide to outside researchers a range of data about what users see on the service, how they engage with it, and what information the platform provides to advertisers and governments.
Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Charge, favored another proposed law, the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act, which would also require that platforms release data about how they collect and use personal information about, among other demographic categories, users’ race, ethnicity, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability status, in order to show whether their systems are being applied in discriminatory ways.
Tech companies savor secrecy, but other than their opposition it’s difficult to think of many downsides to transparency mandates. Even if we do nothing to change how Facebook operates, we should at least find out what it’s doing.