By Will Morris IV
How much power should one private person have? Should one person and the company that he started have the power to influence hundreds of millions, indeed, billions of people with his actions? Is there any point in which we as a society come to new conclusion, that an individual has been granted too much power over the world? Is there a point when we should say enough is enough, something needs to change?
It is time for the United States government to regulate Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. One company and one private citizen should not have the ability to misuse the power that has been unwittingly granted to him and to abuse the trust that far too many people have entrusted him and his company.
The list of grievances goes on and on: the Cambridge Analytics scandal, the indecipherable legal jargon of each update, the fact that most individuals have no concept of how much of their data is being misused by Facebook or how it is being used. We will likely discover even more scandals as more information is revealed.
It is time for the U.S. government to do their job, something that is becoming clear to individuals on both side of the political aisle. Congress must create new laws to limit the power of Facebook.
One of the government’s stated duties is to limit monopolies’ influence over American society. Facebook represents not just a monopoly of the social media industry, it represents a monopoly over the public and private lives of 2/7ths of humanity, including a vast majority of Americans. And this number is growing. Even if the recent misuse of our data by Cambridge Analytics scandal had not happened, Facebook represents a dangerous monopoly that would still deserve heavy scrutiny, even if not outright regulation.
But as we have seen, the Cambridge Analytics scandal did happen. Facebook allowed for the targeted collection of 85 million Americans’ data, against their knowledge, by a company located in a foreign country to influence a United States political election. Let that sink in.
We are talking historical consequences that can never be changed. We are talking about the theft of individual data on a scale that can barely be imagined. We are talking about the failure of one company, a very small group of investors, and indeed, an individual, Mark Zuckerberg, to safeguard the trust of tens of millions of people. And we are just talking about the beginning.
Because in reality, Facebook has unleashed a Pandora’s box that is too much for one company to control. Self-regulation in the tech industry, like the finance industry before 2008, has failed the American people and people worldwide. I am not even necessarily talking about the election of Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. No, I am talking about the defilement of our political process by a set of international actors, an event that should enrage Americans of all political persuasion. Something that is unprecedented in American history, and indeed, in human history.
So again I ask: is it time to regulate Facebook? Perhaps, in time, we should discuss whether Facebook constitutes an illegal economic monopoly, but one thing is clear: For today, there has to be some new laws to protect the American consumer.
Facebook has allowed for too long the third party manipulation and misuse of data (and the emotions and memories that they represent). And indeed, it profits off of it. It profits off the memories, debates, sentiments and anger, and every range of human emotion and experience, and until now it has profited without any real regulation.
We have legal regulations on everything from automobile companies to cigarette use. Why is our data not regulated?
We need some answers for the long term, but something must be done for the average consumer now. We can no longer depend on Facebook to self-regulate.
Here are my proposed solutions:
1. Require Facebook to make user agreements more decipherable — i.e. use vernacular language that changes depending on the location; Facebook is used by hundreds of millions of people who do not use English worldwide — and put bullet points at the top of each update with a summary of the major changes in a very straightforward manner. People need to know what they agree to, but almost literally no one actually reads what they are doing when they sign on for Facebook.
2. Regulate how many employees can access individual citizens’ information. Let the consumer know who has access to their data, in what capacity, for what purpose, and what potential uses of their data there will be in the future. Furthermore, report what data has been leaked and to what companies and individuals outside of Facebook.
3. Reveal how ads target individuals. Diet pill companies should not have the ability to market to anorexic teens, for example, and we as consumers deserve to know how the company uses our data for marketing purposes and otherwise.
These short-term reforms are just the beginning, and I believe that they are apart of a years long, if not decades long, conversation that we as Americans need to have in D.C, in North Georgia and nationwide.
But I am also hoping that this article will contribute to a broader conversation. In a day and age where authoritarian governments employ internet technology to keep track of citizens’ loyalty, American companies violate the trust of billions of people worldwide with no real penalty, and Harvard economics students and professors talk about the inevitability of technology replacing many if not most of American jobs, it is time to have a frank conversation about the role of technology in our lives.
Is technological “progress” always a good thing? Who really reaps the benefit of this progress? Should we strive to achieve all “progress” even if means that life for most people will be fundamentally disrupted?
These are questions that I cannot answer alone. But I hope that in North Georgia we will begin to encourage our law makers to bring these issues to the forefront, for the sake of the American consumer and the American people, both now and in future generations.
Will Morris IV is a Gainesville High graduate and a senior at Harvard University.