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Facebook's terms of service switcheroo

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The day's most important social media-and-democracy story is also extremely weedsy, and its consequen
 
April 19 · Issue #123 · View online
The Interface
The day’s most important social media-and-democracy story is also extremely weedsy, and its consequences are completely unknown. If it’s any consolation, I wrote this post once before and it was eaten by the Revue CMS and now I have to re-do it before running out to do an interview. No one said the newslettering life would be easy!
Anyway: late last night, Reuters delivered a scoop. Currently, Facebook users in the United States and Canada are subject to one set of terms of service, and the rest of the world is subject to the terms of service of its international headquarters in Ireland. Ireland is of course part of the European Union, which next month will roll out the much-discussed General Data Protection Regulation.
Violating the GDPR can subject a company to fines of up to 4 percent of annual global revenue — which, in Facebook’s case, could amount to billions of dollars. And so next month the company will pull a terms-of-service switcheroo on a massive scale, moving 70 percent of its user base outside the protections of the GDPR. About 1.5 billion people will be affected.
In a statement given to Reuters, Facebook played down the importance of the terms of service change, saying it plans to make the privacy controls and settings that Europe will get under GDPR available to the rest of the world.
“We apply the same privacy protections everywhere, regardless of whether your agreement is with Facebook Inc or Facebook Ireland,” the company said.
In a Twitter thread, former Google engineer Yonatan Zunger calls the move a surprise. It’s much harder to build separate systems for data governance based on geography, he writes, given that users’ connections span borders. He speculates that users who aren’t subject to the GDPR will be more valuable, from an advertising perspective, than those who are: “That says something about just how much non-GDPR-compliant data processing may be worth from the perspective of FB’s leadership, and it’s surprisingly high,” writes Zunger, who says he has worked on data governance issues. “It never even occurred to me to try to enable such a thing at scale.”
Facebook’s comment suggests that it’s not about ads — though what it is about, the company won’t say. It seems fair to suggest that company lawyers freaked out about the prospect of 1.5 billion people, on five continents, seeking civil penalties for future infractions of the GDPR. It’s also possible that Facebook believes GDPR is a bad law for lots of reasons, and wants to subject as few of its users to it as possible. 
But that’s the trouble about being a company in a trust crisis: everyone suspects your motives, and given the politics involved, there’s not much you can say. After reading this story, though, I hope Facebook says more.

Democracy
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Facebook’s 2017 Privacy Audit Didn’t Catch Cambridge Analytica
Trust in Facebook has dropped by 66 percent since the Cambridge Analytica scandal
Facebook Hosts Anti-Muslim Groups Despite Zuckerberg Telling Congress the Platform Doesn't Tolerate Hate
Facebook is letting white nationalist hate groups operate in the open
Palantir Knows Everything About You
Facebook is Under Investigation for Alleged Housing Discrimination (Again) 
Russian propaganda evades YouTube's flagging system with BuzzFeed-style knockoffs
Hollywood wants to rid the web of celebrity deepfakes
Elsewhere
Facebook boss: We'll "quite likely" launch up- and downvote buttons
Twitter’s Bet on Video Is Starting to Pay Off - Bloomberg
Twitter bright spot: Big advertisers like its slate of live shows
PopSugar allegedly stole “millions” of Instagram influencers’ photos for affiliate link profits
Fake it till you make it: meet the wolves of Instagram
What it's Like to Work at the Museum of Ice Cream
Launches
Scuttlebutt, A Decentralized Alternative To Facebook
Minds Is the Anti-Facebook That Pays You For Your Time
And finally ...
UK Official Says It's Too Expensive to Delete All the Mugshots of Innocent People in Police Databases
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? casey@theverge.com
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