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Facebook's terms of service switcheroo

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.

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And finally ...
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