Does one size fit all? Especially when the metaphoric question refers to one law to manage issues as complex as consumer access to — and transparent presentation of — information on the internet. Or one universal rulebook protecting the personal privacy of every user from the vulnerabilities almost every online keystroke can create.
That’s what one of the kingpins of the digital universe, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says will be our future. Facebook is about to release new privacy controls to all its customers: “All the same controls will be available around the world,” says Zuckerberg.
And he’s pretty sure he knows what the new global rules will be based on: Europe’s new data privacy law, which takes effect next month.
It requires that companies get explicit consent from users for every possible use of their data — or face fines of up to 4 percent of their global profits. Tough stuff, but Zuckerberg says Facebook is ready to comply with the Euro-rules.
Would a different American standard be better? If history be any guide, American regulation would be lighter, and the threat to corporate profits would be weaker?
Still one observer expects campaign contributions to flow from the giants of the digital industry to legislators who will sign up for One Big Law? Om Malik, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, told our guest, Craig Timberg of the Washington Post, the Congressional debate “will be shaped by people who can spend the most on lobbyists. Amazon, Google and Facebook, for example. I think it is not a surprise they welcome regulation,” he says, because regulations solidify the advantages the biggest competitors enjoy.
In his testimony before Senate and House Committees, Zuckerberg seemed as anxious and willing as Moses to accept Commandments on how to market information to commercial clients, and how to manage attempts at political manipulation. He endorsed the Honest Ads Act which will demand new levels of transparency for online political advertising.
Zuckerberg has said he was shocked, dismayed, and angered by how Cambridge Analytica had abused Facebook by capturing data on 87 million customers and using it to target voters for specific kinds of propaganda in support of the Trump Presidential campaign. And by evidence that Russian trolls had fed fake news — that also benefited Trump — through Facebook accounts. The question is, what to do about all of this.
Craig Timberg is a national technology reporter for The Washington Post, specializing in privacy, security and surveillance. He grew up in suburban Maryland and graduated from Connecticut College. Since joining The Post in 1998, he has been a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent and has co-authored a book, “Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It.” He contributed to The Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the National Security Agency.