After more than 10 hours of questioning Mark Zuckerberg this week, the ball is now firmly in the court of US politicians and regulators.
Many senators didn’t know enough to successfully interrogate the Facebook boss and those who did were restrained by the strict time limit placed on questions from each senator during the hearing.
As a result the 33-year-old billionaire survived Washington relatively unscathed, leaving plenty of questions largely unanswered.
For instance only once was he forced to acknowledge that Facebook collects data from users even when they don’t have an account.
For Facebook, the question now is whether US citizens will continue to accept this level of monitoring as the new status quo or push politicians to enact new regulation.
Members from both sides of politics suggested that regulation might be needed, but there was no consensus and few specifics about what that might look like — or even what the biggest problems are.
Is Facebook’s use of peoples’ data unethical? Should there be greater protections for consumer data? Does Facebook have an unhealthy monopoly in the social media space? How big is too big? Should the tech giants be broken up in the same manner as the oil and telephone industries were in the US last century?
These are the questions that Zuckerberg’s testimony was supposed to help US politicians grapple with, and perhaps even pose an answer to in the form of new legislation.
New Jersey Senator Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the panel this week said at the beginning of the hearing that he plans to work on legislation but is pessimistic that Congress will pass anything.
“I’ve just seen it over and over again — that we have the hearings, and nothing happens,” he said.
“This cycle must stop. We need comprehensive data privacy protection.”
Public awareness of the harmful side-effects of big tech’s surveillance capitalism business model are at an all-time high, so if legislators are going to act, it should be now.
And as Facebook ramps up its facial recognition technologies and continues to work on its artificial intelligent systems, the need to establish regulation that keeps powerful tech companies in check will only become more necessary.
Abhishek Nagaraj, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business said she thinks some bills will passed following the hearing.
“I see some agreement on both sides of the aisle that a legal framework for internet (and) data businesses is important, and with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) being passed in the EU, there is some precedent and pressure on US politicians,” she told The Mercury News.
On regulation, Zuckerberg made the obligatory concession that he was open to it.
“The internet is growing in importance around the world in people’s lives and I think that it is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation,” he said.
Still, Zuckerberg said, politicians need to be careful, noting that new rules or laws could hurt smaller businesses more than a behemoth like Facebook.
In its meteoric 14-year rise, the social media giant has moved a bit too quickly for legislators and that could well remain the case.
But other parts of the world are certainly taking a harsher stance with the likes of Facebook and other data hungry tech giants like Google and Amazon.
Regulation is about to become reality for Facebook in Europe, where starting next month the General Data Protection Regulation will take effect, giving online users more control over their data.
–Credit: nzherald.co.nz – Technology