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Facebook CEO admits need for external regulation

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced US Congress this week in the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, admitting that self-regulation is no longer working.

Appearing for more than six hours over Wednesday and Thursday morning local time, Mr Zuckerberg defended the company’s interests across the topics of privacy, competition, and freedom of speech, admitting that changes would need to be made as to how the company operated.

The platform’s privacy settings was the main area of discussion in light of the Cambridge Analytica data breach, in which 87 million people had their information sold by a third party developer to the British consulting firm, with the 33-year-old CEO admitting he too was affected.

Mr Zuckerberg consistently reiterated that privacy settings had changed since the massive breach in 2014 and that further restrictions had been put on users’ data.

However, several senators suggested this self-regulation was no longer enough.

In response to that line of questioning, Mr Zuckerberg said: “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 then qualified his statement: “My position is not that there should be no regulation but I also think that you have to be careful about regulation you put in place.”

Other key takeaways from the hearings include:

1. GDPR like privacy guidelines to be rolled out

In light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws to be implemented in the EU from May 25 that are set to increase protection of citizen’s data, Facebook revealed that it is already adhering to the legislation.

This information was obtained in a two-page set of talking points left unattended by Mr Zuckerberg that was photographed by journalists. However, the company did not wish for this to be known, with a note in parentheses reading: “don’t say we already do what GDPR requires”.

When pressed by senators to whether the protections would be available to Americans alongside EU citizens, Mr Zuckerberg said: “The GDPR has a bunch of different important pieces. One is offering controls over – that we’re doing. The second is around pushing for affirmative consent and putting a control in front of people that walks people through their choices.”

2. Facebook a monopoly or not

When pushed on market power and whether he believed Facebook has a monopoly on the market, Mr Zuckerberg stumbled to answer, unable to name a direct competitor in the social media market.

Instead, Mr Zuckerberg stated: “The average American uses eight different apps to communicate with their friends and stay in touch with people ranging from text to email.”

“It certainly doesn’t feel like that [a monopoly] to me.”

This has significance of the Australian market in light of ACCC inquiry into digital platforms, which will address the market power of Facebook and Google.

3. Freedom of speech is paramount

Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s line of questioning focused on partisan bias of the platform, carefully accusing Facebook of right wing censorship.

“Does Facebook consider itself a neutral public forum?” Mr Cruz asked Mr Zuckerberg.

“Senator, we consider ourselves to be a platform for ideas,” the Facebook CEO replied.

Mr Cruz stated that many were “deeply concerned” that technology companies like Facebook and other tech companies were “engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship”.

The line of questioning was inspired by the trending news column that features in users’ timelines, which was accused of showing only liberal content producers during the 2016 US presidential election. This was rejected by Mr Zuckerberg.

4. Hints at a paid version of Facebook

A carefully worded statement by Mr Zuckerberg has analysts believing that a paid version of the site may appear in the future.

“There will always be a version of Facebook that is free,” Mr Zuckerberg said. “It is our mission to try to help connect everyone around the world and bring the world closer together. In order to do that, we believe we need to deliver a service that everyone can afford.

Assuming a paid service would be ad free, advertisers would be affected by a limiting of targeting opportunities, ad space and data.

For a further breakdown of the Cambridge Analytica scandal to this point, check out The Verge’s comprehensive coverage.

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