The popularity of social media and the rise of so-called big data is now leading to discussions about potential government regulations. The debate has been going on for years with the Federal Trade Commission issuing a report last year suggesting they would start using various rules and regulations to enforce the public good.
For its part, the Commission will continue to monitor areas where big data practices could violate existing laws, including the FTC Act, the FCRA, and ECOA, and will bring enforcement actions where appropriate. In addition, the Commission will continue to examine and raise awareness about big data practices that could have a detrimental impact on low-income and underserved populations and promote the use of big data that has a positive impact on such populations. Given that big data analytics can have big consequences, it is imperative that we work together—government, academics, consumer advocates, and industry—to help ensure that we maximize big data’s capacity for good while identifying and minimizing the risks it presents.
There’s been plenty of discussion on whether the government would consider buying data from big companies so they could start monitoring what citizens do. New York Magazine’s Brian Feldman and EFF seemed particularly concerned about Trump’s suggestion of some sort of Muslim database through big data.
Still, the downside of Big Data is more apparent than it has ever been. If consumer-tech companies really want to demonstrate that they are putting their users ahead of their bottom line, the EFF says that they should put their money where their mouths are and start deleting unnecessary user data.
Feldman is the same person who promoted regulations of Facebook and Google, although he was disappointed Steve Bannon was the one who suggested it. He believes there are tech advocates and people in Congress who would support the measure if it was tackled from an antitrust standpoint. The ridiculousness of this is the fact there are plenty of apps and data companies out there for people to use which aren’t named Facebook or Google.
But the newest fan of big data regulations comes from conservative Matt K. Lewis. Lewis wrote at The Daily Beast last month it might be time for government regulations because Russia may have been able to use fake accounts to spread fake news during the 2016 election.
Technological advances have muddied the political waters, as is evidenced by how conservatives have viewed this issue from different perspectives. Whether it’s free speech or free markets, it’s increasingly difficult to be an absolutist in Trump’s 21st century America.
Facebook has abdicated its inherent and implied responsibility. Unless there’s a better answer, I’m afraid that Big Data has put out the welcome mat for Big Government.
It is understandable why people like Lewis are asking this question. Facebook and Twitter are sometimes slow on the uptick when it comes to discovering fake accounts. Twitter didn’t shut down an account linked to the Russians, despite being warned by others. Via BuzzFeed.
The actual Tennessee Republican Party tried unsuccessfully for months to get Twitter to shut @TEN_GOP down.
“It was in no way affiliated with our office,” Candice Dawkins, the real Tennessee Republican Party’s communications director, told BuzzFeed News. “It was very misleading.”
On three separate occasions — Sept. 17, 2016, March 1, 2017, and Aug. 14, 2017 — the Tennessee GOP reported the fake account to Twitter for impersonating it, according to email correspondence that Dawkins shared with BuzzFeed News.
According to screen shots captured by the Internet Archive, the fake account did switch its Twitter profile in February from “I love God, I Love my Country” to one that admitted it wasn’t an official account: “Unofficial Twitter of Tennessee Republicans. Covering breaking news, national politics, foreign policy and more. #MAGA #2A.”
It wasn’t until sometime between Aug. 18 and Aug. 25, 2017, that Twitter closed the account.
This is obviously a disturbing report, and shows Twitter and Facebook need to do a better job at investigating possible fake accounts. But it doesn’t mean the two social media platforms should become even more active in suspending accounts after a report. Conservatives and libertarians have complained plenty of times that Twitter is way too quick on the trigger when it comes to some accounts (including my own in what Twitter later called a “false report”). Facebook also requires a “real” first and last name, which is rather ridiculous, especially for people who enjoy their own anonymity or are better known by a nickname.
Social media companies are not alone in their failure to monitor and safeguard accounts. Yahoo was roundly criticized after it revealed every single account was hacked in 2013. There was also a data breach in 2014, and other corporations have seen data stolen. But it’s possible the Yahoo hack happened because of government involvement. Yahoo and Verizon were getting paid by the government to install a backdoor for spying. There’s also the tax breaks the government has given tech companies as part of a “bonus depreciation,” which didn’t do what the tech companies swore it’d do (promote new hires). So the government isn’t the answer to solving “big data.”
The better answer, as Lewis searches for, is self policing and individual responsibility, even with the mistakes Twitter and Facebook have made in the policies. It just means companies will have to “do better,” and if they don’t, then they’ll go the way of AOL Instant Messenger. Yahoo’s failure to take care of their customers, and other disastrous decisions, is slowly leading to their destruction. There’s no need for government regulations. Just patience, and individuals doing what they can to protect themselves.