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The UK calls Facebook a "digital gangster"

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The United Kingdom Parliament is still mad at Facebook. How much does it matter? We've known since la
 
February 18 · Issue #291 · View online
The Interface
The United Kingdom Parliament is still mad at Facebook. How much does it matter?
We’ve known since last summer that the report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee would excoriate Facebook over failures related to competition, data privacy, and foreign interference in elections, among other issues. Today, the final report arrived — and while the rhetoric is more pitched than ever, it remains unclear what any of it will come to.
But let’s first take a look at that rhetoric, which went after Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, in unusually personal terms. From Natasha Lomas’ comprehensive article in TechCrunch:
“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the DCMS committee writes, going on to urge the government to investigate whether Facebook specifically has been involved in any anti-competitive practices and conduct a review of its business practices towards other developers “to decide whether Facebook is unfairly using its dominant market position in social media to decide which businesses should succeed or fail”. 
“The big tech companies must not be allowed to expand exponentially, without constraint or proper regulatory oversight,” it adds.
Commissioners added this, about the CEO. From David Pegg in the Guardian:
“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Collins added in a statement.
Watson agreed. “Few individuals have shown contempt for our parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has,” he said. “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line.”
A fair amount of this outrage at Zuckerberg is related to the fact that he declined to appear before the committee. Still, it seems likely that even had Zuckerberg taken his verbal beating in public, the general thrust of the 110-page report — and its 51 recommendations — would have been the same.
As Lomas notes in her report, the UK government accepted only three of the committee’s initial 42 recommendations. In some places, the committee seems to be as mad at the government as it is at Facebook:
“We hope that this will be much more comprehensive, practical, and constructive than their response to the Interim Report, published in October 2018. Several of our recommendations were not substantively answered and there is now an urgent need for the Government to respond to them.”
I won’t pretend to know how Parliament will react to the finished report. And so I’ll just highlight one good recommendation from the list — one I suspect even Facebook might agree with. From Pegg’s story:
Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.
This sort of investigation would have been useful here in the United States in the aftermath of the 2016 election. While we will never know precisely how Russian interference affected the presidential election, I’ve argued that we should investigate it under the assumption that the attack was significant. Who all was involved in these campaigns? How did they work? What effects did they have?
One hope I have after reading the DCMS report is that the work that should have been done here may still happen overseas — and that a future presidential administration may take the lessons learned and apply them in the United States.

Democracy
Start with this Lizza Dwoskin story about how Google has won millions in tax breaks as it expanded around the country. It’s not the only tech giant doing public real estate deals behind closed doors:
Google — which has risen to become one of the world’s most valuable companies by transforming the public’s ability to access information — has vastly expanded its geographic footprint over the past decade, building more than 15 data centers on three continents and 70 offices worldwide. But that development spree has often been shrouded in secrecy, making it nearly impossible for some communities to know, let alone protest or debate, who is using their land, their resources and their tax dollars until after the fact, according to Washington Post interviews and newly released public records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
NATO Group Catfished Soldiers to Prove a Point About Privacy
These Women Joined Facebook To Follow Their Crushes. Now They’re Using Their Skills To Expose Abusive Police.
Fighting disinformation across our products
Twitter Just Deleted A Tweet From An Account Linked To Iran’s Supreme Leader About Salman Rushdie
Trump’s DHS Guts Task Forces Protecting Elections From Foreign Meddling
Want to reduce political polarization? Save your local newspaper
India is turning its back on Silicon Valley
Elsewhere
Why is Facebook suggesting I look at photos of my female friends in bikinis?
Facebook’s Portal learned its video skills from some of Hollywood’s best cameramen
The Tech Whiz Behind Vine and HQ Trivia Made Millions in His 20s. He Was Dead by 34
Snap is offering to pay $50,000 per episode for original Snapchat Discover shows
The End of Employees
Peach isn’t dead yet
Launches
Instagram is testing a donation sticker in Stories
Takes
Amazon’s grave HQ2 mistake: The political landscape changed but the company’s playbook didn’t
Bill de Blasio: The Path Amazon Rejected
And finally ...
The best new Twitter bot is an endless game of Jeopardy where the winners are good at puns
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and fan art of Facebook executives dressed as digital gangsters: casey@theverge.com.
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