Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Facebook, its breaches, and our data

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Maria Gill
Maria Gill
"Subtly charming problem solver. Extreme tv enthusiast. Web scholar. Evil beer expert. Music nerd. Food junkie."

From time to time – and often – we warn of the distress caused by social networks or the polarization fueled by algorithms that route information to users. The recent revelation of former Facebook chief Francis Haugen led to just that Confirms that the social network has analyzes about the plight of those who suffer from abusive behavior suppress its platforms, but chose not to do anything that would harm the company’s performance. Facebook is a big public place, but with community feedback.

Over the course of crises, companies like Facebook, Google, or Amazon react by promoting some measures to protect the company’s image. But it is the absence of relevant and effective state laws that keeps these threats related to social networks and other connected places alive.

Social networks depend on a critical resource; Its profitability is in fact related to its ability to add value to the billions of data that each of us produces simply because of our activity in the connected world. The processes by which Facebook creates value are based on accumulating the innumerable traces that everyone leaves just for their online activity. By optimizing its algorithms to increase the time users spend on its platforms, a social network like Facebook can increase its revenue from targeted advertising.


In both Europe and the United States, we are now aware of the need to establish frameworks to regulate the practices of major internet platforms. Canadian lawmakers can no longer justify their inaction by relying on the inaction of Americans or Europeans.

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There have long been laws requiring companies to seek our consent when they collect and use our personal data. The main effect of these laws is to require us to be provided with lengthy documents in which we are told what we agree to. Everyone clicks “I accept” when asked to sign up for the terms of use, often buried in hyperlinks that the rare curious people take the trouble to click on. This is not enough to organize a collective resource like big data.

There is a strong tendency in the social media or online shopping marketplace to make the dominant business eat up almost all the competition. These observations have led some to call for the break-up of huge companies such as Facebook. But it would be a mistake to think that it would be enough to break up these huge companies to get a framework that would truly respond to the multiple challenges of an interconnected world.

As for the European Union, it is in the process of creating a Digital Services Legislation To review the responsibilities of users, platforms and public authorities. We aim to better protect consumers and their basic rights while demanding more transparency for the platform. It is also a matter of clarifying the responsibilities of the big players.

On the American side, there is now a positive alliance between the executive and legislative branches of the American state, to make the United States “Global Leader in Developing Code of Conduct for the Digital Economy”.

Today, it is the observed drifts in social networks that motivate politicians to action. But most activities that rely wholly or in part on digital technologies, whether they are autonomous objects, e-commerce, or so-called “smart” communication systems, operate by collecting huge data generated by connected movements, people and things. Creating fair and effective laws requires recognition of the critical role that big data assessment plays in the digital economy.

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Algorithms transparency

Like any complex environment, social networks are spaces for better and worse. We have known for a long time that this is the case with all public places. We’ve learned to develop laws that regulate what happens in asphalt and concrete public spaces. The challenge is to design and implement laws for public spaces that consist of networks and big data processing. There can be no doubt trying to organize this with old tools. Countries must also innovate!

in his book The era of surveillance capitalismShoshana Zuboff explains that the business models of dominant Internet companies depend on capturing the value of big data generated by the movements of all those who act in the connected world. Therefore, national laws should impose guidelines and transparency at the level of economic logic associated with these processes.

Like any potentially dangerous object, online platforms must be subject to requirements commensurate with the risks they pose to the population. Countries must equip themselves with the necessary tools to organize operations on the basis of big data processing. Laws need to impose more transparency and accountability on the part of those who generate value by mobilizing the calculations. It is naive to expect large web companies to regulate themselves. It is up to states to set the rules of the game in line with the characteristics of digital environments. Catching up has become urgent.

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