Remark: Fb’s ethical failure exhibits the necessity for competitors and is a take a look at for Congress, write MPs Buck and Cicilline
Representatives David N. Cicilline, DR. I. and Ken Buck, R-Colo. are the chairman or the highest-ranking member of the Justice Subcommittee of the House of Representatives for Antitrust Law.
Last week, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who became a whistleblower, testified before the Senate about the thousands of internal documents she disclosed to the Wall Street Journal showing how Facebook’s algorithms promote discord.
As she said, “Facebook repeatedly encountered conflicts between its own gains and our safety. Facebook resolved these conflicts consistently in favor of its own profits. “
This latest evidence of Facebook’s moral failure is credible and devastating, but these concerns are not new.
Instead, this evidence confirms what we’ve known about Facebook for years – that growth and profit always come before everything else.
For example, the former head of growth at Facebook said almost four years ago: “We have developed tools that tear apart the social fabric of the social structure … No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, distrust.”
But this outcome is not inevitable – it is a political choice.
For the past decade, antitrust authorities have slept at the counter as Facebook cemented and expanded its dominance by taking over its competitive threats.
WhatsApp and Instagram would be different companies with different incentives if they hadn’t been taken over by Facebook.
Prior to the purchase, WhatsApp’s founders specifically refused to build the business around surveillance advertising and user data extraction. As they said in June 2012, “When advertising is involved, you are the user of the product.”
Similarly, prior to Facebook’s acquisition, Instagram focused on improving the quality of its platform rather than simply increasing virality at all costs.
As Sarah Frier wrote in “No Filter”, the founders of Instagram declined to add a re-share button because it would “give less power to demonstrate model behavior; everyone would just focus on going viral”.
While none of these transactions were challenged by antitrust authorities, we now know that Facebook acquired these companies – as well as others – as part of a well-documented pattern of eliminating their competition.
In documents received by the subcommittee, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg told the company’s former CFO in 2012 that the purpose of acquiring emerging competitors like Instagram was to neutralize competitive threats and maintain Facebook’s dominance.
In other internal documents, Facebook executives also referred to the company’s 2014 merger and acquisition strategy as a “land grab” to “consolidate our position.”
In the wake of these acquisitions, Facebook began driving changes to WhatsApp and Instagram that affected those products and made WhatsApp less secure and Instagram less secure. In either case, these changes are designed to encourage addiction at the expense of the privacy, safety, and security of users.
Due to Facebook’s efforts to monetize WhatsApp through targeted ads and commercial messages, the company’s co-founders resigned in 2017.
Less than a year later, Instagram’s co-founders left the company after Facebook refused to provide it with adequate resources to protect the health and safety of users on the platform.
Since then we have known what the real cost of this consolidation was.
Instead of having the kind of competition and choice that would make Facebook a more trustworthy company, users are stuck with no alternatives as surveillance and exploitation have become the business model of the internet.
Incentives are important. Without competition or accountability, Facebook and other unregulated technology monopolies have no incentive to change, making the internet less and less secure.
As Ms. Haugen said, “there is currently no one holding Mark accountable except himself.”
As a result, WhatsApp has become a ubiquitous messaging platform, often acting as a fire extinguisher for propaganda and causing unrest around the world.
On Instagram, the company’s internal research shows that nearly a third of “teenage girls said they felt worse when they felt bad on Instagram,” while “13% of UK users and 6% of American users traced the wish “Kill themselves on Instagram.”
After all, as the Facebook outage last week made clear, the company acts as an indispensable communications infrastructure for billions of people, underscoring the enormous scope of this problem.
At the same time, the internet has become more hostile to the kind of competition and innovation necessary to combat the dominance of Facebook and other platform monopolies.
At its core, this issue is not just about market failure or consolidation. It is essentially about what society we want to live in and whether we have an economy in which companies fight for economic survival, to create better products and a better future.
But we have options on the table.
In June, we worked bipartisan to pass a package of comprehensive reforms from the House Justice Committee to tame big tech.
These bills would prevent the kinds of mergers that lead to Facebook cornering the market and killing competitors, and creating new rules for the digital economy to ensure that same for the next generation of startups and other businesses Conditions of competition exist.
This legislation is about giving people more choice so they don’t get stuck with the same bad options every time there is a bombshell story about how Facebook and other companies abuse their data and trust.
But it’s also about something more – our economic future in the United States.
Do we want to live in a country where success is defined by competition between startups and newcomers with the best ideas, or simply by the fact that the largest companies with the largest lobby budgets do everything to protect their monopolies?
Americans have had enough across party lines.
In poll after poll, Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agree that these companies have too much power and that Congress needs to curb their dominance.
Congress has a choice. We can either pass these momentous reforms – along with others that protect the privacy and safety of users online – or we can continue to hold hearings and discuss the issue while nothing changes.
Inaction allows these practices to persist and is in itself a political choice. If Congress does not address these issues, not only have we failed our test, but we will become complicit. We have to take action.