One recent proposal to address Facebook antitrust concerns is to require that Facebook creates a mechanism for user-data portability. Users could download their Facebook data, upload it to a new social network, and pick up posting where they had left off. A related proposal is for Facebook to create a public API, so that, say, a new social network named Bookface could retrieve, on behalf of its users, the Facebook content of those users, and display it on Bookface. Such users would then gain the benefits of Facebook without ever actually being on it.
These two proposals, user-data portability and public API, are most often touted as solutions to the antitrust issue surrounding Facebook. But the question for this paper is whether either of these proposals would improve the privacy situation at Facebook.
One theory is that, by making it possible to change social networks, users could find the network that most closely met their privacy needs. The contrary theory is that we all pretty much have to pick the social network our friends are on. The contrary-contrary theory might be that an appropriate public API might make it possible to stay on a more private network, and still exchange updates with users of Facebook.
See reuters.com/article/us-tech-antitrust-congress/u-s-senators-want-social-media-users-to-be-able-to-take-their-data-with-them-idUSKBN1X112C. For privacy, would it really help?
That is, would this really create a competitive market for privacy? Or at least a reasonable fraction of a market?
There is also the idea, often touted by Facebook, that such a plan would make it harder for Facebook to continue to meet user needs.
And there is the question of just where the advertising goes, and whether moving your tracking data to a new network will just make the tracking worse as now two networks will be tracking you.
Facebook has lots of privacy issues. Perhaps the most famous, though not quite so closely tied to day-to-day tracking, is that of Cambridge Analytica, which is a case with some hard-to-categorize missteps. Here is what happened (dates updated according to facebook.com/zuck/posts/10104712037900071):
It is not clear from this if there was one step which was a glaring mistake, or if there were many incremental mistakes. Facebook clearly had an honest belief that more shared data would lead to a better user experience. Would other social-media providers be any better? Was the real problem the sharing of your Friends' data? But if you share all of your data, doesn't that always include at least some information about your Friends?
(This post by Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, FB VP for being a grown-up, is illuminating: https://www.facebook.com/boz/posts/10104702799873151.)
The EU is strongly pushing data portability for banking. The idea is that, if you can take your banking data with you, banks will have trouble locking in customers and will have to provide competitive online features. Again, that's not exactly the same as privacy. See thenextweb.com/future-of-finance/2018/06/27/openbanking.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has made it nearly impossible to take down user-posted content. Has §230 gone too far?
This law, along with the DMCA, has enabled the rise of third-party-content sites. Some of these are mainstream, such as YouTube and Wikipedia. Some, like Reddit, are known for the freedom provided for users to say what they want. And some, like The Dirty, are simply in the business of encouraging salacious gossip.The original goal of §230, however, was to protect sites that did family-friendly editing. If you think that §230 still makes sense, try to identify the important principles behind §230 and defend them. If you think it has gone too far, outline some sort of alternative, and explain whether your alternative should be based on regulation -- and if so how this would be implemented -- or on voluntary website cooperation. As an example of the latter, note how Google has limited visibility of user posts on YouTube, and made it harder to post anonymously.
Here's an article that contains several quotes from former Senator Chris
Cox, one of the co-authors of §230, on how he sees it: www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2018/03/21/591622450/section-230-a-key-legal-shield-for-facebook-google-is-about-to-change.