Sen. Ed Markey on Monday likened Facebook’s business model to Big Tobacco’s targeting of minors as the tech giant faced a record outage and whistleblower allegations that company leaders consistently favor profits over efforts to stamp down misinformation and hate speech.
“The business model of Facebook is making money off of kids,” the Massachusetts Democrat told CNN, urging Congress to pass his bipartisan child privacy bill of rights. “In the same way that the tobacco industry knows that you’ve got to hook a kid early even though it’s dangerous for them over their lifetime, Facebook knows the very same thing … It’s time for them to be made accountable for all the pernicious, negative impacts their technology is having on our society and the whole world.”
With Facebook and Instagram, it's always been money over mental health and profits over people. Not anymore. It's time to hold this company accountable for the harm it has caused, especially to young users. pic.twitter.com/XjeSZJ9Kmf
Markey joined a chorus of lawmakers, including progressives Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in calling for reforms or for Facebook to be broken up.
Monday’s hours-long outage saw the company’s main social media site and messaging app, and Instagram and WhatsApp, go down entirely, impacting billions of users worldwide and sending Facebook’s stock price tumbling 5% a few days after whistleblower Frances Haugen told CBS News that the company “over and over again” optimized its own interests instead of “what was good for the public.”
“Break up big tech,” Warren, who’s long called for reforms for Facebook, Google and others, tweeted during the outage.
During her presidential campaign, Warren proposed to break up Facebook, Amazon and others, making the case that Big Tech was gobbling up competition at the public’s expense. According to audio leaked to The Verge in 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that if Warren were elected president, he’d “bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge.”
We should break up Big Tech.
“It’s almost as if Facebook’s monopolistic mission to either own, copy, or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, highlighting a post mentioning WhatsApp’s importance to Latin America as a secure messaging app. “Remember: WhatsApp wasn’t created by Facebook. It was an independent success. FB got scared & bought it.”
It’s almost as if Facebook’s monopolistic mission to either own, copy, or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy 🧐
Remember: WhatsApp wasn’t created by Facebook. It was an independent success. FB got scared & bought it 💬 https://t.co/dGVwza9leR
Markey called on Congress to take another look at his bipartisan Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, which would update online privacy rules to provide greater protection to anyone under the age of 16.
“It’s got to be tough, it’s got to be strong, and the Federal Trade Commission has to be able to enforce it and punish companies that violate it,” Markey said.
The legislation, reintroduced earlier this year along with Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, would bar internet companies from collecting personal information from users 13 to 15 without their consent; ban advertising targeted at children; limit the collection of personal information of teens and require companies to make it clearer how data is used; make it easier to delete personal information from a website used by a child or teen; and establish a Youth Marketing and Privacy Division at the FTC.
Markey and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who led a Senate hearing Tuesday on Facebook and protecting children, have also introduced the KIDS Act, which aims to stop manipulative online marketing, the amplification of harmful content and threats to young people.
In a statement, Facebook said its teams balance “protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.”
The tech company also said it’s “heavily” invested in staff and technology to keep the platform safe and to blunt misinformation and harmful content.
“If any research had identified an exact solution to these complex challenges, the tech industry, governments and society would have solved them a long time ago,” Facebook said. “We have a strong track record of using our research — as well as external research and close collaboration with experts and organizations — to inform changes to our apps.”
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