In March 2017, the Cambridge Analytica scandal pushed Mark Zuckerberg to issue a public apology. Thanks to data “leaked” by Facebook, the data analysis company had created a tool to target voters during Trump’s campaign. More than ever, Facebook was accused from all sides of being a monopoly. Should it be dismantled?
A frightening power
Mark Zuckerberg had never been so criticized or put under such political pressure until then. It all started when whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed that Cambridge America, which participated in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, had access to millions of Facebook users’ personal data. How did they get it? Through a quiz that allowed the company to recover not only the interviewee’ information, but also all their friends’, without any user’s consent.
Shortly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook representatives also admitted they’d “collaborated” with several brands, including Huawei. Between defective personal data protection, the spread of fake news, and a monopoly on information, the social network was accused of large-scale manipulation. “Facebook decides what news billions of people around the world see each day. It buys potential competitors to protect its monopoly, follows us almost everywhere we go on the web and in the real world. It uses this data to make us and our kids addicted to its services,” Freedom from Facebook petitioners say.
How did Zuckerberg respond? He replied that on average, “a person uses eight different applications to communicate and stay connected.” What he forgot to mention is that between Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, the company he created owns half of those tools. That’s exactly the kind of “frightening power” the Freedom from Facebook group worries about.
Freedom from Facebook!
Through their online petition, these digital privacy advocates have launched a campaign to ask the social network to break this monopoly and split into four independently functioning entities (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger). On its platform, the organization is also calling on Facebook to create “strong privacy rules that empower users and protect them.” The goal is to “make Facebook safer for our democracy.“
Although the Center for Digital Democracy is convinced the Cambridge Analytica case “will totally change the way we regulate the digital economy,” it will take time for Facebook to meet the requirements demanded by Freedom from Facebook and users. But lately, they have received the surprising support from one Emmanuel Macron.
A competition issue
Was French President Emmanuel Macron seeing into the future when he talked to Wired about Facebook’s possible future? He suggested the company be dismantled to fight against the GAFA monopoly. “At a point of time, your government, your people, may say, “Wake up. They are too big.” Not just too big to fail, but too big to be governed. Which is brand new. So at this point, you may choose to dismantle. That’s what happened at the very beginning of the oil sector when you had these big giants. That’s a competition issue.”
His proposal to dismantle Facebook and other GAFA monopolies was refuted by Christine Lagarde, the director general of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in an interview with Le Monde. “I’m not sure dismantling databases is the best way to maximize competition.” She recognized the problem posed by free competition but insisted on using existing political tools. “We therefore need to find legal, budgetary, fiscal and structural mechanisms to restore the rule of competition.”
As for Zuckerberg, when last April 10 a senator asked him if Facebook was a monopoly, he calmly replied, “I don’t think so,” before adding that he was not opposed to having the sector regulated. The European Union was preparing to do so with the GDPR.