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What would government regulation of Facebook actually look like?

What would government regulation of Facebook actually look like?


SAN FRANCISCO (Circa) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in Washington this week to give testimony before Congress on the recently revealed Cambridge Analytica data leak that affected up to 87 million of its users.

"I'm committed to getting this right," the social network founder said in his opening remarks before the Senate Tuesday. "This includes the basic responsibility of protecting people's information, which we failed to do with Cambridge Analytica."

Much of the questioning by lawmakers during Zuckerberg's two-day appearance aimed for better understanding of how Facebook handle its users’ private information in order to determine whether regulation is the answer.

Michelle de Mooy, the director of the Privacy & Data Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told Circa she is optimistic some type of regulation that most legislators will be able to get behind is on its way.

"There’s definitely been interest from Democrats, probably more so than Republicans," she said. "But there’s reason to believe it could be a nonpartisan effort."

If you want to know some part of what that privacy law could be, you might be able to look to Europe. The General Data Protection Regulation will go into effect there in May. It forcing data-gathering services like Facebook and Google to make it easier for users to see exactly where their personal data is going, with the government warning of great fines when compliance is not met.

"If you want to access what a company has on you, [under the GDPR] you can request that, and there’s a time frame that they have to get that to you. And it has to include everything," de Mooy explained.

"It’s the sort of making sure that a person agrees with the way their data is collected, how it’s used, whether or not it’s shared."

De Mooy also believes that, since services will already be modifying their platforms to abide with the new EU laws, there may be less resistance to bringing chunks of that regulation to the states.

Another hint on regulation that could be coming might have been given away by the number of times Congress member brought up that Facebook's Terms of Service (TOS), the privacy agreement users click OK for when they sign up, is too complicated and needs to be changed.

"Not just having them buried in lengthy policies, but having graphical elements ... that make it clear, for example, when you are on Facebook, there are hundreds of eyes looking at your posts," said de Mooy. "Those can be enacted into law as sort of design standards ... so that we're not dealing with a different way on a different product or service. So that we have certain rules of the road."

Zuckerberg, since the revelation of the Cambridge Analytica data leak, has said his company could be receptive to some form of regulation. And the CEO repeated that sentiment this week in D.C.

"My position is not that there should be no regulation, but I also think that you have to be careful about what regulation you put into place," he told a collection of House members Wednesday.

Whether lawmakers will actually put that warm welcome to test soon remains to be seen.

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