Recent developments in the “data breach” inquiry raise questions about accountability for social media giant Facebook.
Documents seized by UK Parliament show that Facebook staff and CEO Mark Zuckerberg knowingly exploited a loophole that allowed third-parties to access users' personal data. They then charged their larger clients, including Netflix and Airbnb, for continued access to the information. One client, Cambridge Analytica, used the data to disseminate Fake News and disinformation to particular demographics, which may have helped the Trump campaign win the 2016 US primary election.
Justice Minister Andrew Little claims he is watching these new developments closely and welcomes accountability for online organisations. He has even stated that he will “take action if needed”.
So, it is difficult to tell what the recent findings will mean for content creators and users in New Zealand. But, regulation of content on social media would be a balancing act. In their submission to the House of Commons, Facebook indicated that authoritarian regimes could take advantage of regulation: if nation states were to have the power to regulate social media content, they could also censor genuine political expression shared on the platform.
There would also be major implications for thousands of other social media apps if the government could regulate the way in which Facebook uses personal data.
A further difficulty with regulating multinationals such as Facebook is that the only practical method of recourse is through international law, since they don't have a local operating company or any assets in most places.
Perhaps, then the onus is on us as the users to decide what we want to be in the public domain. If we collectively reduce the wealth of knowledge that we contribute to the site, their power to exploit that knowledge will diminish. I realise this is easier said than done, so I've created a support group for us all to join on Facebook. Don't worry, it's private.
The emails are a selection, often with little or no context or continuity, showing Facebook staff, including the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, discussing whether to trade access to user data for revenue, valuable trademarks or simple cash payments. The emails also cast new light on a number of other controversial practices at the social network: