Why Regulation of Handling of Data is Needed

This past week has seen Facebook as the center of a news cycle that since the 2016 election has proven very difficult to get attention from. Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, has been accused of manipulating users to gain access to their data and users are upset with Facebook for not doing more to protect such data. It’s not just users who have shown displeasure though – the stock market reacted in a large way with Facebook’s stocks dropping over 13% in the two weeks since the revelations.

While users and investors are upset with Facebooks, things won’t change. From investor’s perspective – they don’t want things to change. The reason they’re upset with the company is that Facebook got caught. Markets have valued Facebook’s stock so since they’re IPO because of the amount of data they have available and what that data is worth to advertisers. Sure, investors would like Facebook to be slightly more careful with some privacy issues, but only so far as it doesn’t impact the business in a significant way.

Users, of course, are more upset. They feel violated, not only because their data was made available but because of how it was used to manipulate them by companies like Cambridge Analytica. Already user engagement has dropped. [1] Mark Zuckerberg has tried taking out full-page ads and going on a public relations tour to reassure users, but thus far it’s been shown little success.

The question is if users aren’t using Facebook then where are they going? There are few other options; other services like Twitter or Snapchat don’t provide quite the same service as Facebook, and more importantly, they’re just as happy to share your data for advertisers as well. Any competitor that might arise would be faced with the same issues as Facebook – little incentive to self-regulate. There have been attempts in the past for subscription-based social network such as App.net which have demonstrated users aren’t willing to pay for privacy.

If investors are only interested in privacy so far as any violations aren’t in the headlines and users want some kind of privacy but aren’t willing to pay for it, what can be done? The best solution to this problem is to introduce government backed regulations to monitor the handling of data by companies such as Facebook and other tech giants. It’s not just that they lack the incentive to self-regulate, in many ways they lack the perspective to gauge whether a business decision is a violation of users’ privacy. It takes someone with the ability and the experience to really look at a process and not just see best case scenarios – such as the scenario where all developers respect the agreement they’ve signed.

Government regulators need the ability to hold companies accountable and help provide the necessary guidelines to make sure users’ data is safeguarded. It’s impossible to prevent every single violation of privacy when data is so prevalent; however, users have already shown that’s not what they’re expecting. They’re already aware that they’re sharing their data and that it’s being consumed not only by friends and family but also 3rd parties. They’re willing to make that tradeoff to enjoy free services, but only if basic precautions are implemented. Given most users aren’t in the position to evaluate a company’s data practices and determine if they are up to snuff, the government must step in to work with companies to make sure users’ privacy is respected.

[1]: money.usnews.com/investing/stock-market-news/articles/2018-03-26/facebook-inc-fb-stock

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