Monday, February 18, 2019

Digital Gangsters

Facebook and its executives were labeled "digital gangsters" by a UKParliamentary inquiry into the social media giant's abuse of users privacy and collection of personal data from the devices of internet users who do not even have a Facebook account. The company should immediately be subject to statutory regulation the report published at the conclusion of the 18-month investigation by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport  parliamentary committee recommended. 

The UK setback comes as rumours are circulating widely that the Silicon Valley tech giant is currently negotiating a multibillion-dollar settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission for similar offences to those it is accused of in Britain. If the US fine story is correct it will represent the largest penalty ever handed out to a tech company in agency history. 

The UK report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, for which Zuckerberg sealed his fate by not appearing to answer the committee's questions, found that Facebook purposefully obstructed its inquiry, according to The Guardian, while the social media giant failed to tackle Russian attempts to manipulate elections. That one is rather fanciful but hey, the Russians have to be blamed for everything, right.

"Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day," warned Damian Collins, chairman of the committee. 

The Guardian, reveals the report: 

  • Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee’s questions.
  • Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy.
  • Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.
"We need new independent regulation with a tough powers and sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy," said Labour party deputy leader Tom Watson, adding that "Labour agrees with the committee’s ultimate conclusion – the era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately."

In short - people are too stupid to know when they're reading fake news, (which probably comes from Russia, ahem) and the UK government must now step in to control the flow of information, citizen. While the US and UK governments and organisations like the EU are right to stop the abuses of privacy by companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, but we net users must resist attempts by government to use privacy abuse scandals as an excuse to impose censorship on web content.

The UK's Parliamentary inquiry was launched in 2017 in order to analyze fake news over social media, and had its scope widened in March 2018 in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal.

 The Guardian again:

The committee argues that, had Facebook abided by the terms of an agreement struck with US regulators in 2011 to limit developers’ access to user data, the scandal would not have occurred. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal was facilitated by Facebook’s policies,” it concludes.
The 108-page report makes excoriating reading for the social media giant, which is accused of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights. -The Guardian
The report stated, "Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data," reads the report, which concludes that "It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.

The report makes some strong personal criticisms of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over his outrageous statement that Facebook has never sold user data - a claim the report concludes is "simply untrue." 

"Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies," said committee chair Collins in a statement. 

Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson piled in, adding "Few people have treated our parliamentary democracy with contempt in the way Mark Zuckerberg has."

"If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line." 

The report reveals Facebook is using its market dominance to crush rivals - using various technologies to prevent them from competing with Facebook or its subsidiaries. 

In response to the parliamentary report, Facebook gave a typical response, saying it was "pleased to have made a significant contribution," adding that "We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform." So Zuckerberg thinks insulting the government of a nation where many users reside by ignoring their request that her personally answered questions is a 'significant contribution?' The man isn't right in the head.

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