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What now for Facebook after Zuckerberg hearing?
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had his second day of grilling Wednesday by a Congressional Panel. During the closely-watched sessions, senators questioned him about the social media’s commercial model, interference in politics, how it deals with users’ private data and what measures may be taken to improve it.
Most embarrassing, probably was the moment where Senator Dick Dubin, a Democrat from Illinois, asked Zuckerberg about his choice of hotel.
Durbin: Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you were staying in last night?
Zuckerberg: Erhm, no.
Durbin: if you messaged anybody this week, would you share with us names of the people you’ve messaged?
Zuckerberg: Ehm Senator no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.
Durbin: I think that might be what this is all about. Your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you give away in modern America in the name of quote ‘connecting people around the world’
Facebook, is accused of sharing the data of millions of people with the UK based data information service Cambridge Analytica, which is in its turn accused of using it to manipulate public opinion in major events such as Brexit or the US elections – charges it strongly denies.
During the second session of the hearings, Zuckerberg admitted that his own personal data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica and that regulation was "inevitable."
“It’s the idea that personal data are merchandise; exchange currency,” says Arthur Messaud, a lawyer with Laquadrature, a Paris-based Internet watchdog.
“That’s the problem with Facebook, and that’s the problem we are facing today.
“This is forbidden when it comes to European law. Zuckerberg will never comply with this, he will content himself to make small changes in the field of security, and he will say ‘we will explain it better to the people”.
“But it won’t change anything to the problem, which is that Mark Zuckerberg thinks that our freedom, our personal data, are an exchange currency,” he says.
Meanwhile, observers in Europe are following the Zuckerberg hearings with interest.
“I’m extremely glad about these allegations, about this conflict,” says Julia Krüger, a researcher with Netzpolitik, an internet watchdog based in Berlin.
“Because Zuckerberg promised that Facebook would become a major platform a major infrastructure to structure the political discourse in society, and I always doubted that this is without a cost.
“The hearing is about the deceptive practices. It is one thing to collect data, another to share these data with third parties. The third thing is to combine everything and the fourth thing is to manipulate people. So I think between the lines of taking users’ data and being allowed to do everything, there are a lot of differences,” she says.
On a Europan policy level, things may really change, regardless if Zuckberg and Facebook are going to implement changes to protect privacy.
Impact of GDPR
As of May 25th this year, there will be new regulations in the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation.
“And from then on, this this way of working will be forbidden,” says Messaud.
“It forbids the contracts where freedom is being sold in exchange for a service.
To see that these regulations will be implemented, Laquadratur takes the lead in organizing action groups against Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, “to see to it that these contracts be annulled and that they are declared void by Europe’s data protection agencies,” he says.
If the rules are violated, fines of 20 million Euro or up to four percent of the violators’ global revenue, may be imposed.
A lot of political discussion is likely to take place before all EU countries will implement the regulations, but one thing is clear: Facebook may have to change its business model of data-driven advertising, if at least in Europe, it doesn’t want to risk a fine that the company will find hard to swallow.