On March 6, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a long-term road map to turn Facebook into a “privacy-focused communications platform.” His “principles” for this transformation include auto-deleting old user content and choosing “not to build data centers in countries that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression,” even if that gets Facebook blocked from lucrative markets such as China or Russia.
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On Feb. 25, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral argument in Force v. Facebook, a case about whether Facebook can be held liable for the use of its platform to coordinate and encourage violent attacks by users linked to Hamas.
The Charter of the United Nations begins by listing a number of lofty goals, including, “We the peoples of the United Nations [have] determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” This echoes the more famous and similarly aspirational preamble to the U.S.
Over the past year, lawmakers from Brussels to Washington have discussed whether and how to regulate social media platforms. In Germany, a central question has been whether such platforms—which Germans call social network providers (SNPs)—should be held liable if they fail to delete or remove illegal content.
Members of the Myanmar military have systematically used Facebook as a tool in the government’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, according to an incredible piece of reporting by the New York Times on Oct. 15. The Times writes that the military harnessed Facebook over a period of years to disseminate hate propaganda, false news and inflammatory posts.
On Thursday, Sept. 6, Twitter permanently banned the right-wing provocateur Alex Jones and his conspiracy theorist website Infowars from its platform. This was something of the final blow to Jones’s online presence: Facebook, Apple and Youtube, among others, blocked Jones from using their services in early August. Cut off from Twitter as well, he is now severely limited in his ability to spread his conspiracy theories to a mainstream audience.
In the swirl of news this week, it would be easy to miss recent announcements from two of America's largest and most influential technology companies that have implications for our democracy as a whole. First, on Tuesday morning, Microsoft revealed that it had detected continued attempts at spear-phishing by APT 28/Fancy Bear, the hacking group tied to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (known as the GRU).
The 2018 “techlash” shows no sign of slowing. The last week of July saw the release of two papers containing proposals for significant increases regulation of tech companies, particularly with an eye toward protecting the integrity of political processes and elections.
In light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed to testify before Congress.
The shocking misuse of personal data by Cambridge Analytica, actively facilitated by Facebook, was a preventable harm. Hundreds of thousands of individuals who thought they were participating in an academic research project were used as seed corn for a large-scale, unethical profiling scheme. Tens of millions more then had their personal data swept into broad, profit-making political experimentation that gave unscrupulous advertisers the ability to target messages based on highly sensitive personality properties.